Responding to a Request

In a letter dated October 8, 2012, Presidents Monson, Eyring, and Uchtdorf asked that members “learn the doctrine of turning their hearts to their fathers.”  I believe the fullest understanding of this doctrine comes by studying the scriptures and words of the man who restored it: Joseph Smith.  This essay is an attempt to explain the doctrine using the teachings of the man commissioned to teach it.   Since all other explanations of it rely on others’ attempts to reproduce or synthesize Joseph’s teachings on the matter, it makes sense to simply go to the source.  Later traditions that conflict with Joseph’s teachings are omitted from this essay.  Since those traditions, rather than Joseph’s teachings, form the basis for virtually all Latter-day Saint discourse on the topic, this exploration of Joseph’s teachings will be different from the normative view.  While it will be unfamiliar to those who are only acquainted with more recent traditions, this exploration has the advantage of being rooted firmly in the teachings of Joseph Smith.   Understanding it will require acquiring Joseph’s definitions of words like priesthood, covenant, fathers, children, and ordinance.  It will require suspending our reliance on more recent attempts to define the gospel, to allow Joseph’s message to speak for itself.

Note: Joseph’s teachings about Elijah deserve to be reviewed and studied on their own merit. Anyone would be best served by putting down this paper, setting aside their traditions and preconceived notions, and simply reading Joseph’s words for themselves. There is no substitute for that. Notes and transcripts of Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo-era addresses on this topic can be found in the book The Words of Joseph Smith, by Andrew Ehad and Lyndon Cook. Harmonized transcripts and notes from the most important addresses can be found at the website for the Book of Abraham Project, at the following web addresses:

Parallel accounts for all years of Joseph’s ministry can be found here:

Moroni’s rendition of a familiar scripture

Aside from the quotation of Malachi in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s public teachings about this doctrine began with his 1838 account of the angel’s words during their meeting of Sept 21, 1823. (JSH 1:36-39)

After telling me these things, he commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus:

For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.

And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming. 

(JSH 1:36-39)

Understanding this scripture depends on answering the following questions:

Who are “they that come,” whose coming will burn the proud and wicked?

Who are these fathers?

Who are the children?

What are the promises made to the fathers?

What does it mean to have the promises made to the fathers planted in the hearts of the children?

How will the hearts of the children “turn to” their fathers?

Is this referring only to today’s Latter-day Saint genealogy and Temple work, or is there more in that verse?


Joseph Smith identifies the fathers and the children

Since it was Joseph Smith’s primary mission to teach the seed of Israel (Lehite, Jew, and Gentile/Ephraimite) about the covenants of God to the Fathers (2 Ne 3:7, Title Page of the Book of Mormon), his teachings must be the foundation for our understanding. Did he ever shed light on the identity of “the fathers”? Willard Richards and John Taylor’s notes from some of Joseph’s teachings from July, 1840 provide insight.

Paul speaks of the Church coming to an innumerable company of Angels, to God the Judge of all, the Spirits of Just men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant, &c. Heb. XII, 23 [“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant”]. I saw Adam in the valley of Ah-dam-ondi-Ahman–he called together his children & blessed them with a Patriarchal blessing. The Lord appeared in their midst, & he (Adam) blessed them all, & foretold what should befall them to the latest generation–This is why [Adam] blessed his posterity: He wanted to bring them into the presence of God. They looked for a city [which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.] &c.–Moses sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the Pristhood, but he could not. In the first ages of the world they tried to establish the same thing–& there were Elias’s raised up who tried to restore these very glories but did not obtain them. But (Enoch did for himself & those that were with Him, but not for the world. J.T. [note inserted by John Taylor]) they prophesied of a day when this Glory would be revealed.–

Paul spoke of the Dispensation of the fulness of times, when God would gather together all things in one &c& [ That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:] . Those men to whom these Keys have been given will have to be there. (I.E. when Adam shall again assemble his children of the Priesthood, & Christ be in their midst) the Ancient of Days come &c &c J.T.) And they without us cannot not be made perfect. These men are in heaven, but their children are on Earth. Their bowels yearn over us. God sends down men for this reason, Mat. 13. 41 .& the Son of man shall send forth his Angels &c [and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.]All these authoritative characters will come down & join hand in hand in bringing about this work–

The Kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed. the mustard seed is small but brings forth a large tree, and the fowls lodge in the branches The fowls are the Angels, … these Angels come down combined together to [minister to?] their children, & gather them. We cannot be made perfect without them, nor they without us when these things are done the Son of man will descend, the ancient of Days sit.–We may come to an innumerable company of Angels have communion with & receive instruction from them.

The hearts of the children will have to be turned to the fathers, & the fathers to the children living or dead to prepare them for the coming of the Son of Man. If Elijah did not come the whole earth would be smitten.

(Joseph Smith, Willard Richards pocket companion, July 1839, scriptures inserted in brackets)

The fathers consist of “those men to whom these keys have been given,” meaning the keys of the priesthood that brought themselves and others into God’s presence while in the flesh (DC 107:18-19). They are men who received the promise of eternal life and eternal posterity that comes with the fullness of the priesthood (DC 84:38-40). God sends them from heaven because “their children are on earth” and “their bowels yearn over us”. Joseph specifies that the fathers are in heaven, not languishing in the spirit world. The children consist of their descendants, “living or dead”. Thus the unredeemed dead ancestors for whom we (Latter-day Saints) do genealogy and Temple work, and our immediate forefathers and pioneer ancestors who were members of the Church, are classed among “the children” who need to have their hearts turned to the Fathers.

Explicitly named among “these authoritative characters”, the Fathers, are the patriarchs Adam, Enoch, and Moses, who tried to bring others into the presence of God “by the power of the priesthood.” The priesthood spoken of here is not the authority passed man-to-man in the LDS church, but the higher authority that one only obtains by communion with heavenly beings (JST Gen 14:28-29). It is given personally by the Father in response to “exceeding faith and repentance” (Alma 13:10-12). It is the authority that we are invited by the Temple Endowment to receive by pressing forward and being chosen, called up, and anointed king and queens, priests and priestesses. You are “called” when you receive ordination to priesthood office in the earthly Church. You are “chosen” when you are called up to the presence of the Father to receive priesthood there, “chosen” being another word for “elected”. The scriptures speak primarily of the second kind of priesthood. In Joseph’s teachings, and in the scriptures he translated and dictated, the word “priesthood” is best understood to mean “fellowship.” There is a fellowship among men, fellowship between men and angels/servants, fellowship between men and Christ, and fellowship between men and the Father. These constitute different “priesthoods,” and the progression from one to the next is the process of salvation (DC 84:35-48).

Alluded to by Joseph are many other “Eliases” who were “raised up who tried to restore these very glories.” As Joseph said elsewhere “All the Prophets had the Melchizedeck Priesthood and was ordained by God himself”(January 5, 1841, Wm. Clayton Private Book). All true prophets receive the fullness of the priesthood from God himself, and are sent to invite others into God’s presence (Alma 13:6). The fathers surely include Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who “have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (DC 132:37).


Promises planted in Abraham’s heart

All this talk of promises to fathers being planted in hearts reminds me of Abraham’s description of himself.

And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

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, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.

I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.

My fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice…

(Abraham 1:2-5)

Abraham found there was greater happiness and peace for himself if he obtained “the blessings of the fathers.” By desiring to possess greater knowledge, to be a greater follower of righteousness, to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, he “became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” It was not a right that was offered to him simply because he had participated in an earthly ceremony or ordination. It only comes to those who meet the conditions.

Interestingly, “the right belonging to the fathers” came down from the fathers from “before the foundation of the earth.” This right is “the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father.” These fathers must be very old indeed, to have been fathers before the foundation of the Earth.

Note that Abraham distinguishes “the fathers” from “my fathers”, his immediate predecessors who had turned from righteousness. Like Adam before him, Abraham “sought for a city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). He wanted association with these Fathers by entering their order and being numbered among them. In this way, both Adam and Abraham sought to come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn (Hebrews 12:22-24, DC 76:67).

Abraham is a useful case study for us, because he, like us, relied on scriptural records for his understanding of this priesthood (Abraham 1:31). The priesthood he sought, the fullness of the priesthood, was not held by his immediate ancestors, and it has not been widely held among ours. It is by careful, thoughtful, meek, and soft-hearted study of the scriptures that the promises made to fathers can be planted in our hearts. Joseph Smith’s primary mission was to restore the scriptures that will give gentiles, Jews, and descendants of Lehi knowledge of the covenants of God to the Patriarchs (2 Nephi 3:7-8). Bringing people to a knowledge of these promises is like grafting a branch from its transplanted tree back to its mother tree’s roots (Jacob 5:63).

Please note that relying on the scriptures is very different than relying on traditions about the scriptures. Had Abraham relied on the foolish traditions of his immediate forefathers, who had not been redeemed and brought into God’s presence, then his understanding of the scriptures would have been skewed and distorted. Abraham was picky about the sources of his doctrine, and we should do likewise if we hope to become his children.

It is useful here to distinguish between the unconditional promises sought by Abraham and the ritual covenants Latter-day Saints make in Temples today. Our covenants are a part of the ceremony, and, like the rest of the ceremony, are subject to change. For instance, we no longer make a covenant to avenge the blood of Joseph Smith, which was a part of the endowment ceremony for decades. In the ritual, we make a covenant and are ritually rewarded for obeying it before we ever have a chance to live the law in real life. The covenant-making and the reward in the Temple are both ritual actions showing us a pattern. Abraham was seeking the “further light and knowledge” that one gains from actually conversing with the Lord, not just ritual knowledge gained through a fabric veil. To do so, he would have to receive and obey actual instructions by God, not just ritual covenants, and then receive actual unconditional promises from God directly. Having done so, he received an unconditional covenant, oath, and promise from God that he would be exalted.

Abraham’s heart turns to his Fathers

Just as the fathers had received an appointment from God concerning the seed, Abraham wanted promises for his seed as well.  He wanted to become a Father, and his seeking was answered:

And 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.

Now, after the Lord had withdrawn from speaking to me, and withdrawn his face from me, I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee;

(Abraham 2:9-12)

Abraham’s seed would be scattered, leavening the world with “this right”, so that “all the families of the earth” could be blessed with salvation. How these “families” are distinguished from one another, and how many representatives from each family must receive “the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal” is left undefined here. All who receive salvation after Abraham’s day, however, will look to Abraham as their father. In receiving the unconditional promise of eternal fatherhood from God, Abraham joined the order of the Fathers.

Elijah’s mission

So what is the place of “the prophet Elijah” in all this?  Joseph Smith dwelt on this topic in a March 10, 1844 discourse. From Wilford Woodruff’s transcription:

Now for Elijah, the spirit power & calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations ordinances, oricles powers & endowments of the fulness of the Melchezedek Priesthood & of the Kingdom of God on the Earth & to receive, obtain & perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God even unto the sealing of the hearts of the fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fathers even those who are in heaven.

now comes the point: what is this office & work of Elijah [?], it is one of the greatest & most important subjects that God has revealed, He should send Elijah to seal the children to the fathers & fathers to the Children, Now was this merely confined to the living to settle difficulties with families on earth [?], by no means, it was a far greater work.

Elijah what would you do if you was here[?] would you confine your work to the living alone[?].  No

I would refer you to the scriptures whare the subject is manifest, i.e, without us they could not be made perfect, nor we without them, the fathers without the children nor the children without the fathers. I wish you to understand this subject for it is important & if you will receive it this is the spirit of Elijah that we redeam our dead & connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven & seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection & here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those which dwell in heaven this is the power of Elijah & the keys of the Kingdom of Jehovah.

Elijah’s work will be to allow the saints “to receive, obtain & perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God even unto the sealing of the hearts of the fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fathers even those who are in heaven.” The ordinances spoken of include much more than the “Temple ordinances” we engage in today, for those are symbolic of true ordinances wherein men actually come into the presence of heavenly beings. Elijah’s ordinances appear to be actual ceremonies of atonement and reunion, as practiced by Adam and the other Fathers. The full roster of these ordinances includes all ritual exchanges—between men and men, men and angels, and men and gods—which are needed to go from the telestial world to receiving the fullness of the Father (DC 93:19-22). One such ordinance is the ceremony of recognition by which one receives the Second Comforter, as depicted in 3 Nephi 11:13-17:

13 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying:

14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.

15 And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.

16 And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:

17 Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.

This is a ritual act that would have taken hours to administer to this group of people, but was essential for them to experience to know Christ. The actions include a ritual embrace, an exchange of tokens with the hands, and falling to one’s knees to feel the prints in the feet. After each had communed with Christ, the congregation “did cry out with one accord” in a ritual Hosanna shout, before falling down and worshipping together. The purpose of the ordinance is to endow the recipient with the knowledge that Jesus is the promised Christ, making it an essential saving ordinance for eternal life (John 17:3, DC 93:1). It is one of the ordinances of the priesthood that manifests “the power of godliness,” because receiving the ministry of the Son is an essential step to receiving the ministry of the Father (DC 84:19-22, 37-38).

Another such ordinance is sacrifice, as was offered by Adam and the pre-Mosaic patriarchs down to Jacob. These offerings actually drew heaven to earth, bringing angels or the Lord himself to converse at the altar (Moses 5:6, Abraham 2:18-19). Joseph Smith gives insight into these ordinances of sacrifice in his dictated, and personally edited, instructions on Priesthood delivered October 5, 1840:

We frequently have mention made of the offering of Sacrifice by the servants of the most high in antient days prior to the law of moses, which ordinances will be continued when the priesthood is restored with all its authority power and blessings. Elijah was the last prophet that held the keys of this priesthood, and who will, before the last dispensation, restore the authority and deliver the Keys of this priesthood in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness.

¶ It is true that the Savior had authority and power to bestow this blessing but the Sons of Levi were too predjudiced

¶ And I will send Elijah the Prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord &c &c.

Why send Elijah[?] because he holds the Keys of the Authority to administer in all the ordinances of the priesthood and without the authority is given the ordinances could not be administered in righteousness.

At least one of the ordinances that Elijah is to restore is sacrifice, which will be performed in the future by the Sons of Levi. This is among the ordinances that will result in the sealing of the hearts of the children to their fathers who are in heaven, preparing the two groups to commune. This is not something we do today, and is not one of the temple ceremonies credited to Joseph.

According to Joseph, speaking in 1840, Elijah’s restoration of this authority and ritual knowledge is still future. Those who study Joseph’s Nauvoo Elijah teachings will note that he always referred to Elijah’s coming as a future event. Joseph didn’t regard Elijah’s mission as complete, despite the 1836 visitation recorded in DC 110. In fact, since Joseph never publicly spoke of that vision, nor used it in any of his teaching about Elijah, it is not clear he ever intended the saints to know about it. He certainly didn’t intend for them to believe Elijah’s mission was complete, and to regard themselves or their institution as possessing Elijah’s power. When he died, he was attempting to prepare them to receive Elijah’s mission in the future. This is why studying Joseph’s teachings about Elijah is so important. We know that the power of Elijah will bear the fruits defined by Joseph (opening the heavens, communing with Christ, making our calling and election sure). Therefore, we can easily identify when this power is actually present. We should look forward to a future visit of the Prophet Elijah, and we should seek to obtain the power of Elijah in our own lives by communing with God and making our calling and election sure.

It seems fitting that the final step in the restoration of all things will be for mankind to reenact Adam and Eve’s first priestly act after leaving the garden: offering sacrifice (Moses 5:4-5). The end will be a chiastic march back to the beginning. The work of Joseph Smith only took us back to a New Testament church before becoming preoccupied by the performances and ordinances of a lesser form of religion. We still need to press forward (or backward, I suppose) to an earthly Zion, and finally to primal unity as we are reunited with the Fathers.


Sacrifice, glory, and communion

The sons of Moses and of Aaron (both descendants of Kohath, son of Levi), will “offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the House of the Lord,” as part of the future establishment of Zion, and “shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, upon Mount Zion in the Lord’s house” (DC 84:31-32). Being filled with the glory of the Lord, which is intelligence, or light and truth, is a precondition to communing with heavenly beings (DC 88:67-68). It will allow the inhabitants of Zion to meet Enoch (a Father) and those who will come with him, fulfilling one of the promises made to the Fathers:

“And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;

And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion, which shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made;”

(Moses 7:63-64)

“And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself.

And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy;

And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch.”

JST Genesis 9:21-23

The coming of the Fathers in Heaven, whose presence will burn the wicked, will be joyful for those who have embraced the truth and finally kept all the commandments, whose hearts have been turned, or sealed, to their Fathers.


Don’t wait for Zion

Those who desire to have this communion now need not wait for Zion to be established and Elijah to facilitate a group meeting. They need only obtain the power of Elijah for themselves, which comes with the Fulness of the Priesthood:

The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. 

DC 107:18-19

Just as the church of Jesus Christ on earth is a covenant society (Mosiah 18:8-10), the Church of the Firstborn is entered by covenant. Its members have the privilege of association with one another and with Christ and the Father (DC 76:94). Membership in this Church comes only to those who receive the Father’s personal ministry, receiving His fullness (DC 93:19-22). Doing so requires not just receiving ordinances from men, but also from angels, the Son, and the Father himself.

If a man gets the fulness of God he has to get [it] in the same way that Jesus Christ obtain it & that was by keeping all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.

Joseph Smith, June 11, 1843, Woodruff Journal

I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.

DC 93:19

The Fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and the power of Elijah are confirmed by God personally when one’s calling and election is made sure. He bestows these things with an oath and covenant that he cannot break (DC 84:36-40). The “sealing” ceremony performed in Latter-day Saint temples today provides only conditional, hypothetical promises. Its purpose is to point us forward to a true, eternal sealing by God himself, which can only come “through your faithfulness.” Only by obtaining this consummating blessing can we seal our children and departed dead to us, and seal ourselves to our Fathers in heaven.

Make your calling and election sure go on from grace to grace until you obtain a promise from God for yourselves that you shall have eternal life. this is eternal life to know God and his son Jesus Christ, it is to be sealed up unto eternal life and obtain a promise for our posterity. Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, this is the power of Elijah to seal or bind or turn the hearts of the fathers to their children

Joseph Smith, 10 March 1844, James Burgess Notebook.

Oh! I beseech you to forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure—and if any man preach any other gospel with that which I have preached, he shall be cursed, and some of you who now hear me, shall see it & know that I testify the truth concerning them;

Joseph Smith, 12 May 1844, Bullock Report


To summarize

Returning to the questions about the initial scripture:

Q. Who are “they” whose coming shall burn the proud and wicked?

A.They are the angels who will return to earth with the Lord (Jude 1:14-15). They will separate the just from the wicked (Matt 13:49-50), the wheat from the tares (Matt 13:24-30, DC 86:1-5), the good fish from the bad (Matt 13:47-48), the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-33). These angels act under the direction of Michael, or Adam, and are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will be heirs of salvation (Joseph Smith, Oct. 5, 1840). Before the destruction at their collective return, they will work to prepare mankind by ordaining high priests after the holy order of God, bringing as many as will come to the Church of the Firstborn (DC 77:11). They also declare the word of Christ to these chosen vessels of the Lord, so they can bear testimony to the residue of men, who in turn can choose to have faith and receive angelic ministry. In doing these things they fulfill the covenants (promises) of the Father that he has made to the children of men (Mormon 7:31-32). These angels are sent from heaven because they are our Fathers in heaven, and “their bowels yearn over” their children on Earth. Their work is to gather us to God’s presence, as dramatized in the endowment ritual of the Temple (Joseph Smith, July 1839).


Q. Who are these fathers?

A. They are the angels spoken of above. They are patriarchs, or common ancestors, who received unconditional promises from God. They include Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. More specific promises were made to Jacob’s sons, and others of his descendants, including Lehi, which make them fathers whose covenants with God will be fulfilled on their descendants. For some at least, their fatherhood began before the foundations of the Earth (Abr. 1:3).


Q. Who are “the children”?

A. We, including all members of the Church from Joseph Smith’s day until now, and our unredeemed ancestors, are the children (JSJ, July 1839).


Q. What are the promises made to the fathers?

A. Each of the Fathers received an unconditional promise, or covenant, whereby they were sealed up unto eternal life and obtained promises for their seed (Joseph Smith, 12 May 1844). By this covenant they had the more sure word of prophecy that their calling and election were made sure (Ibid.). “The promises made to the fathers”, include both the promise of eternal life and the subsequent promises concerning their seed. By such promises Adam could prophesy that his priesthood would return at the end of the world (Moses 7:8). Enoch was promised that Zion and its people would return at the cleansing of the world, and that the Earth would rest (Moses 7:54-67, JST Gen 14:34-35, JST Gen 9:21-25). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were promised that their posterity would become a multitude of nations, and that their seed would bless all the families of the earth with eternal life (Abr 2:8-11). Israel’s son Joseph received a promise that a seer named Joseph would arise in the latter days who would teach the children of Israel about the covenants of God, so that they could be restored by obtaining the same covenant (JST Gen 50). Lehi obtained a promise that his seed would not be totally destroyed, and would be restored to the knowledge of God and the lands of their inheritance in the last days (2 Nephi 3).


Q. What does it mean to have the promises made to the fathers planted in the hearts of the children?

A.It means for the children to come to a knowledge of the covenants made to the fathers, and to seek such a covenant for themselves, as Abraham did (Abr 1:1-4). Abraham is the prototype and father of all who would receive the gospel thereafter, because he, like them, had to turn from the idolatry of his fathers. We must do the same. If our hearts are so stuck on our narrow, correlated understandings of words like “sealing”, “priesthood”, we will not be receptive to the truth about these covenants.


Q. How will the hearts of the children “turn to” their fathers?

A. Joseph pointed out that this word “turn” could also be translated “bind, or seal” (Joseph Smith, January 21, 1844). The children (living and dead) must be sealed to their Fathers in Heaven. Joseph Smith had such a connection, which is why he sealed people to himself as an adopted father (Joseph Smith, 10 March 1844). Since Joseph, no church leaders have claimed to have such a connection, and the church stopped sealing people by adoption in the late 1800s. For over 160 years we have, without obtaining the sealing power for ourselves as Joseph instructed, attempted to seal our unredeemed dead to ourselves. Since neither we nor they have a connection to the Fathers until we make our calling and election sure, the sealing ceremony alone is not enough to save us. The ordinance tells us what is possible, but the ceremony itself makes it clear that it is entirely conditional on our making our calling and election sure (D&C 132:7). The ceremony we perform doesn’t forge a connection with heaven or secure promises. While individual connections with the Fathers come to every individual who joins the Church of the Firstborn, a communal connection with the Fathers will be re-forged for the inhabitants of Zion by a messenger named Elijah the Prophet, who will authorize and instruct the sons of Levi to offer sacrifices (Ibid., DC 84:31-32). The proper performance of all ordinances will seal them to their Fathers in heaven (Joseph Smith, 10 March 1844; also JST Gen 9:21-25).

Individual covenants can always be forged by developing the faith to commune with the angels whose job it is to do the work of the covenants of God (Moroni 7:31). Their ministry will lead you to the Son, and his ministry will lead you to the Father. The Father will teach you and make oaths and covenants with you, conferring priesthood and promising you eternal life (DC 84:35-48). Having thus received the Gospel of Abraham (the “good news” that Abraham received), you become his son, adopted through him into the family of God (Abraham 2:10).


Q. Is this referring to Latter-day Saint genealogy and Temple work, or is it something else?

A. It is related, in that we have been commanded to go through the ceremonies for our dead because we cannot be made perfect without them, and vice-versa (DC 128:18). However, unless we forge a connection with our Fathers in Heaven by making our calling and election sure, then trying to seal ourselves to our ancestors won’t do us or the dead any good (ibid., Joseph Smith 10 March 1844). We would merely be sealing two dead branches together. Remember, according to Joseph our ability to seal our family together (living and dead) is contingent on our personally obtaining the sealing power by making our calling an election sure (Joseph Smith, 10 March 1844). That way we can all be sealed to something heavenly. The sealing ceremonies we perform right now are only invitations; they are entirely conditional on our pressing forward and making our calling and election sure.

Had the Saints completed the Nauvoo Temple, Elijah could have come to do his work (“placing the seals of the Melchezedeck priesthood up on the house of Israel & making alI things ready” according to Joseph) and Christ would have visited it and restored the fulness of the priesthood, bringing the Saints into His rest (Joseph Smith 10 March 1844, DC 124:28). They did not do so, and were cast into the wilderness to await another invitation (DC 124:45-48). Their actions under Joseph Smith, and their subsequent fate, were a repetition of those of the children of Israel under Moses:

23 Moses … sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;

24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.

25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;

26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel

DC 84

At some point the opportunity will end for the gentiles (the LDS who received the gospel first in the latter days), and redemption will be offered again to the remnant of the seed of Lehi and the rest of the House of Israel (Matt 21:33-46, JST Matt 21:47-56, 3 Nephi 16:7-11, 1 Nephi 15:13-14, etc.). It will only be those gentiles who have received the fullness of the Father, the kings and queens among us, who will stand at that day to assist the remnants of Israel in building Zion (2 Nephi 10:9, 3 Nephi 21, DC 133:32).