Here is a quote from the Journal of Discourses recently brought to my attention:
“This failure to realize all the blessings and powers of the Priesthood does not apply to the elders and lesser Priesthood only; but it applies to the higher quorums, and comes home to ourselves, who are Apostles of Jesus Christ. We are presented before the Church, and sustained as prophets, seers and revelators, and we have received oftentimes the gift of prophecy and revelation, and have received many great and glorious gifts. But have we received the fullness of the blessings to which we are entitled? No, we have not. Who, among the Apostles have become seers, and enjoy all the gifts and powers pertaining to that calling? And those who are called to perform special missions in opening up dispensations of the Gospel to the children of men, as Joseph and others were called of the Lord, He endows more fully with these gifts; but this does not hinder others from enjoying similar gifts according to His promises, and according to our faithfulness. And I have thought the reason why we have not enjoyed these gifts more fully is, because we have not sought for them as diligently as we ought. I speak for one, I have not sought as diligently as I might have done. More than forty years have passed away since these promises were made. I have been blessed with some revelations and prophecies, and with dreams of things that have come to pass; but as to seeing things as a seer, and beholding heavenly things in open vision, I have not attained to these things. And who is to blame for this? Not the Lord; not brother Joseph—they are not to blame. And so it is with the promises made to you in your confirmations and endowments, and by the patriarchs, in your patriarchal blessings; we do not live up to our privileges as saints of God and elders of Israel; for though we receive many blessings that are promised to us, we do not receive them in their fullness, because we do not seek for them as diligently and faithfully as we should.” (Orson Pratt, JD 25:145-146)
This candid statement of Elder Orson Pratt is a beautiful and faith promoting statement from an earnest and faithful Apostle. He was called by the Lord, through revelation to Joseph Smith, and held the office given him. His lament of failing to attain, because of a lack of diligence, should summon to each of us a renewed resolve to be faithful and true to the Lord. When so many have fallen short, the Lord deserves to have someone succeed. Why is that not you? Why do you not summon the faith and diligence to become His friend? This is an open invitation to everyone. (D&C 93: 1.) Therefore it is an invitation to you.
I think the best way to view all priesthood assignments in the church as entirely probationary. That is, ordination is an invitation to come and receive. It is up to each individual whether they will come and will receive. Ordination is invitation. Acceptance is through living the principles and ordinances of the Gospel.
The Lord often spoke to “the elders of my church” as one category, in contrast to “priesthood” which is another category. We conflate the two. An elder is invited to become an actual priesthood holder, but that is dependent upon heaven, alone. It may be conferred on us, but heaven must ratify. (See D&C 121: 36-37.) Therefore, there are a lot of elders in the church who have no priesthood. Yet they have an authoritative invitation to connect with heaven and rise up and receive it.
We conflate so many things because we tend to be lazy. We want to be able to acquire priestly authority as easily as we acquire a merit badge. It just does not, cannot work that way. Heaven controls that end of our faith. We conform to the conditions or we do not receive. The test is measured in our hearts, not just in our outward conduct. I suspect Elder Orson Pratt was never closer to attaining what he sought than when he humbly confessed his failure and sincere desire. His heart seems broken, his confession sincere, his desire authentic.
When someone has the fullness of the priesthood, they have the ability to ask and get an answer. When Joseph received it by the voice of God in the early 1830’s, the Lord confirmed “I restore all things, and make known unto you all things in due time.” (D&C 132: 45.) When the voice of God declared that it was also to be upon Hyrum Smith, it was declared by revelation that he would have the keys “whereby he may ask and receive.” (D&C 124: 95.) When Nephi, son of Helaman received it, the Lord declared: “all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for tho shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.” (Hel. 10: 5.) Joseph Smith explained this relationship when referring to Noah conversing with the Lord preliminary to destroying the wicked. Noah was told by the Lord how he (Noah) could save himself and his family. Joseph explained, “thus we behold the Keys of this priesthood consisted in obtaining the voice of Jehovah that he talked with him in a familar and friendly manner, that he continued to him the Keys, the Covenants, the power and the glory with which he blessed Adam at the beginning and the offering of Sacrifice which also shall be continued at the last time, for all the ordinances and duties that ever have been required by the priesthood under the direction and commandments of the Almighty.” (Words of Joseph Smith, 5 October 1840, Monday morning, Robert B. Thompson’s account; spellings corrected.) One of the reasons we know Joseph Smith had the fullness was his ability to always get an answer to his inquiries. During his life, the Lord called the church a “true and living” church because it was in constant communication with the Lord. (D&C 1: 30.) While Joseph was at the head, the church could always ask and get an answer from the Lord through him. There was never any reason for the church or its leaders to speak in the absence of revelation. The Lord hearkened to Joseph. Joseph held “the keys of the mysteries and the revelations” D&C 28: 7. He had the “keys of the mysteries of the kingdom” D&C 64: 5. He held the “keys of the kingdom” D&C 81: 2. Joseph had “this greater priesthood [which] admistereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” D&C 84: 19. For Joseph, the fullness was getting answers, solving mysteries and always using revelation to do so.
When the Lord designated Hyrum to receive this same authority, then the Lord was bound to also heed Hyrum’s inquiries and answer him. Joseph could be removed, but the church still had someone at the head who would be able to ask and get an answer, just as with Joseph.
It is a great thing when the church is “true and living” and has, at its head, someone like Joseph or Hyrum who could ask and get an answer. That is why it is so puzzling and offensive for the church’s press spokesman to recently claim the church’s leaders for generations spoke “in the absense of revelation” about a matter of critical importance for salvation of an entire race of people. When they said: “The origins of the priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.” The church has repeatedly claimed to have the fullness of the priesthood, therefore it is a terrible indictment of Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, among many others, that they spoke “in the absence of direct revelation.” This surprising claim by the press spokesman contradicts the established order, recognized authority, and most importantly the church’s claims. I have taken some criticism for suggesting an alternative view of our history in my last book, but I’ve never made such an attack as this. This is a serious accusation, and one which the spokesman ought to provide us with an explanation. Did the leadership proceed on a matter of such importance “in the absence of revelation?” That seems heartless and unkind. Perhaps it was, but I would hope we would have some follow up explanation, because the assertion is troubling.