Chapter 5 Section A
Modern Day Temples-the Temples At Kirtland and Nauvoo
As to general design, and indeed as to details of plan and construction of the earlier sanctuaries, much has been preserved to us through the pages of sacred writ. From the Biblical record alone it would be possible to practically reproduce the Tabernacle of the Congregation and the later Temple of Solomon; though, had we no information to supplement the Biblical account, we would know but little as to procedure requisite to the administration of ordinances specifically pertaining to temples.
Regarding the plan of building and the structural design of temples, we find no close similarity, far less of aught approaching identity, in these holy houses as erected in different dispensations; on the contrary we may affirm that direct revelation of temple plans is required for each distinctive period of the Priesthood’s administration, that is to say for every dispensation of Divine authority. While the general purpose of temples is the same in all times, the special suitability of these edifices is determined by the needs of the dispensation to which they severally belong.
There is a definite sequence of development in the dealings of God with man throughout the centuries; and it is this unity of order and purpose that constitutes the eternal unchangeableness of the Supreme Being. Today is no mere repetition of yesterday; on the contrary, every today is a sum of all precedent time, so that in each succeeding age the Divine plan is farther advanced, and the grand finale in the great drama of human salvation is brought nearer.
From the days of the ancient Tabernacle of the Congregation, and thence onward to the meridian of time, animal sacrifice was required as an ordained rite of propitiation and worship; and such was in prototype of the sacrificial death predicted as part of the mission of the Son of Man. The temples of the Hebrews who were living under the Mosaic law, provided, therefore, for the slaughter of animals, for the ceremonial dividing of the carcasses and for the due disposal of the blood, for the convenient immolation of the offerings, and for numerous other details of ceremony associated with worship under the law of Moses.
The Latter-day Saints are one with other Christian sects in the unreserved acceptance of the doctrine that the atoning death of Christ terminated the Mosaic rites of sacrifice involving the ceremonial shedding of blood, that, in truth, the prototype was consummated in the reality. The temples of today are provided with no altars of sacrifice, no courts of slaughter, no shambles red with the blood of beasts, no pyres on which carcasses are burned, no censers of incense to becloud the fumes from burning flesh.
Even among the temples of the present dispensation there is a graded variety in the details of construction. The first temple of modern times was in a measure incomplete as compared with the holy houses of later construction. The fact was doubtless known to the Lord, though wisely hidden from common knowledge, that the Kirtland Temple would serve but for the beginning of the re-establishment of those distinctive ordinances for which temples are essential. Even as the Tabernacle of old was but an inferior type of what would follow, designed for temporary use under special conditions, so the earlier temples of the latter-day dispensation, specifically those of Kirtland and Nauvoo, were but temporary Houses of the Lord, destined to serve for short periods only as sanctuaries.
Scarcely had The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints been organized when the Lord indicated the necessity of a temple, in which He could reveal His mind and will to man, and in which the sanctifying ordinances of the Gospel could be administered. In a revelation given as early as December, 1830, the Lord said: “I am Jesus Christ the Son of God: wherefore gird up your loins and I will suddenly come to my temple.” In February 1831, the Lord further indicated His purpose thus: “That my covenant people may be gathered in one in that day when I shall come to my temple. And this I do for the salvation of my people.” More definite instructions as to the practical labors incident to the procuring of a site and the rearing of a temple soon followed.
Temple Site At Independence Missouri
The principal seat of the Church had been temporarily established at Kirtland, Ohio; nevertheless the prophet had learned through early revelation that Zion would be established far to the west. In June, 1831, a conference of elders was held at Kirtland, on which occasion a revelation was received directing certain of the elders to start westward, traveling in pairs and preaching by the way. In the month following, these elders reassembled at a designated place in western Missouri, all rejoicing in their ministry and eager to learn the further will of the Lord. The burden of their prayer and song is thus expressed by the prophet: “When will the wilderness blossom as the rose? When will Zion be built up in her glory, and where will thy temple stand, unto which all nations shall come in the last days?” In answer to their supplications the Lord spake by the mouth of His prophet, designating the western part of Missouri as the land of Zion, and the site occupied by the town of Independence as the “center place,” and specifying a spot as that upon which a temple should be built.
On the third of August, 1831, the prophet Joseph Smith and seven other elders of the Church assembled on the temple lot and dedicated the same to its sacred purpose. Though the company was small, the occasion was one of great solemnity and impressiveness. The prophet himself offered the prayer of dedication. The temple so projected is yet to be built. Though the Latter-day Saints acquired by purchase title to and possession of the temple lot, they were later by violence compelled to abandon their rightful possessions.
The Kirtland Temple
The building of a temple in Missouri was regarded, even by the prophet and those who assisted him in dedicating the site, as an event of the future, perhaps even of the far distant future. The center of activity, the seat of the Church for the time being, was in Ohio, and Kirtland was the place of temporary gathering. In Kirtland too was to be erected the first temple of modern times.
In a revelation given December 27, 1832, the Lord commanded the establishment of a holy house. Perhaps because their eyes were directed too steadily toward the “center place,” and because the people were prone to con- template too absorbedly the glory of the future to the neglect of then present duties, compliance with the requirement to proceed at once with the erection of a temple was not prompt; and the Lord rebuked the people for their tardiness and neglect, declaring again His will that a house be reared to His name and promising success on condition of faithful effort.
The Saints were aroused to great activity in the matter of erecting a temple for immediate use. A building committee was organized, and a call issued to all branches of the Church. On the second day of August, 1833, the voice of the Lord was heard again respecting the matter of temple building, and while the specific requirement appears to directly apply to the temple of the future in Jackson County, Missouri, nevertheless the revelation had immediate effect in inspiring greater effort in the building of a temple at Kirtland.
The Kirtland Temple was built as projected and designed, though the work was marked by an unbroken course of supreme sacrifice on the part of a poverty-laden people. Consider the words of one who was present and saw, one who helped and suffered, one who spoke from personal knowledge and keen remembrance. Eliza R. Snow, a gifted poetess and historian of modern-day Israel, has written:
“It [the Temple] was commenced in June, 1833, under the immediate direction of the Almighty, through his servant, Joseph Smith, whom he had called in his boyhood, like Samuel of old, to introduce the fullness of the everlasting gospel.
“At that time the Saints were few in number, and most of them very poor; and had it not been for the assurance that God had spoken, and had commanded that a house should be built to His name, of which He not only revealed the form, but also designated the dimensions, an attempt towards building that Temple, under the then existing circumstances, would have been, by all concerned, pronounced preposterous.
“Its dimensions are eighty by fifty-nine feet; the walls fifty feet high, and the tower one hundred and ten feet. The two main halls are fifty-five by sixty-five feet in the inner court. The building has four vestries in front, and five rooms in the attic, which were devoted to literature and for meetings of the various quorums of the Priesthood.
“There was a peculiarity in the arrangement of the inner court which made it more than ordinarily impressive-so much so that a sense of sacred awe seemed to rest upon all who entered. Not only the Saints, but strangers also, manifested a high degree of reverential feeling. Four pulpits stood, one above another, in the center of the building, from north to south, both on the east and west ends. In front of each of these two rows of pulpits was a sacrament table, for the administration of that sacred ordinance. In each corner of the court was an elevated pew for the singers-the choir being distributed into four compartments. In addition to the pulpit-curtains were others, intersecting at right angles, which divided the main ground-floor hall into four equal sections, giving to each one half of one set of pulpits.
“From the day the ground was broken for laying the foundation of the Temple, until its dedication on the 27th of March, 1836, the work was vigorously prosecuted.
“With very little capital except brain, bone, and sinew, combined with unwavering trust in God, men, women, and even children, worked with their might. While the brethren labored in their departments, the sisters were actively engaged in boarding and clothing workmen not otherwise provided for-all living as abstemiously as possible, so that every cent might be appropriated to the grand object, while their energies were stimulated by the prospect of participating in the blessing of a house built by the direction of the Most High, and accepted by Him.”
The corner stones had been laid July 23, 1833-just when opposition and persecution were most rife in the western branches of the Church, the very day, in fact, on which a lawless mob served notice of expulsion on the Saints in Missouri. Nevertheless work on the Kirtland Temple continued without interruption, though to the eager Saints progress was all too slow. On the 7th of March, 1835, a solemn convocation was held in Kirtland,-”called for the purpose of blessing in the name of the Lord, those who have heretofore assisted in building, by their labor and other means, the House of the Lord in this place.” The record gives names of those who had consecrated their time, effort and means to the work. Long before the Temple was completed, parts of the structure were used for council meetings and other gatherings of the Priesthood. In January, 1836, a code of rules was adopted “to be observed in the House of the Lord in Kirtland.” On the 21st of the month last named a gathering of the Priesthood was held in the unfinished Temple, on which occasion the Presiding Patriarch and the three High Priests who composed the First Presidency of the Church, assembled in a room by themselves and engaged in solemn prayer. The Patriarch, Father Joseph Smith, was anointed and blessed by the members of the First Presidency in turn, after which he, by virtue of his office, anointed and blessed them. Of the glorious manifestation that followed, the prophet thus writes:
“The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell. I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire; also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son. I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold. * * * I saw the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth, who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior looked upon them and wept.
“Many of my brethren who received the ordinance with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself, and the power of the Highest rested upon us; the house was filled with the glory of God, and we shouted ‘Hosanna to God and the Lamb.’ My scribe also received his anointing with us, and saw, in a vision, the armies of heaven protecting the Saints in their return to Zion, and many things which I saw.
“The Bishop of Kirtland with his counselors, and the Bishop of Zion with his counselors, were present with us, and received their anointings under the hands of Father Smith, and this was confirmed by the Presidency, and the glories of heaven were unfolded to them also.
“We then invited the High Councilors of Kirtland and Zion into our room.
“The visions of heaven were opened to them also. Some of them saw the face of the Savior, and others were ministered unto by holy angels, and the spirit of prophecy and revelation was poured out in mighty power; and loud hosannas, and glory to God in the highest, saluted the heavens, for we all communed with the heavenly host.”