Revelation to Wilford Woodruff-the Law of Adoption-- Historical Magazine 13:145-152 (October, 1922).
"I have not felt satisfied, neither did President Taylor, neither has any man since the Prophet Joseph who has attended to the ordinance of adoption in the temples of our God. We have felt that there was more to be revealed upon the subject than we had received. Revelations were given to us in the St. George Temple, which President Young presented to the Church of God. Changes were made there, and we still have more changes to make, in order to satisfy our Heavenly Father, satisfy our dead and ourselves. I will tell you what some of them are. I have prayed over this matter, and my brethren have. We have felt as President Taylor said, that we have got to have more revelation concerning sealing under the law of adoption."
President Woodruff then announced to the General Conference and particularly to the presidents of the four temples in Utah that he had gone "before the Lord" to know who he should be adopted to and that the "Spirit of God" instructed him that he should be sealed to his natural father. Prior to this time it had been the practice to be sealed to the "prophets and apostles" in the Church. President Woodruff now pronounced the prior practice an incorrect procedure and called upon the membership of the church to accept as a revelation this announcement, which incidentally he had previously presented to his counselors and to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
This revelation on the Law of Adoption, with its accompanying explanation by President Woodruff, sets forth quite clearly a philosophy of a developmental process in the establishment of L.D.S. Church doctrine and procedure over an historical or chronological continuum-or to put it in scriptural terminology-"We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." (L.D.S. Ninth Article of Faith)
Perhaps the best commentary on this new revelation on temple work given in 1894 remains in the Conference Report for April, 1894 and the reference given in the heading above this note.
In these two sources both the discourse and announcement of the will of the Lord by President Wilford Woodruff and a commentary by President George Q. Cannon, one of his counselors are given in full. The reader might well study carefully both statements of Presidents Woodruff and Cannon.
There are several other very interesting points brought out by President Woodruff in this discourse that are worthy of particular notice.
President Woodruff states rather categorically that the chronological age of a person or prophet is not a determining factor in his ability to receive revelation, citing as his two extremes the revelations to Adam at the age of 927 years and the revelations to Joseph Smith at this age of 14 years.
He also accepts as authentic and literal the advanced ages of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, stating that when they were "four or five hundred years old they took wives, begat children, and raised up posterity."
THE LAW OF ADOPTION
Discourses Delivered at the General Conference of the Church, the Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah, Sunday, April 18, 1894.
PRESIDENT WILFORD WOODRUFF
I feel thankful for the privilege of meeting with so many of the Latter-day Saints this morning. In order to present my position before the Saints I wish to say that I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over sixty years, a member of the quorum of the Apostles fifty-five years, and the President of the Church for a short time. During all these years, and in all my travels, I have never seen a moment when I have had the power to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ or to administer in any of the ordinances of the House of the Lord, acceptable to God or to myself, only by the assistance of the Holy Ghost; and I do not know of any other man that could ever do this. Even the Son of God, in referring to His work, said: "I do nothing of myself, but as my Father has taught me, I speak these things." So it has been with all the prophets and patriarchs in every age of the world; they have had to be assisted by the power of God. I occupy that position today before this assembly. Therefore, as the Lord commanded us not to speak only as we are moved upon by the Holy Ghost, I desire that, and in order to obtain it I want the prayers and faith of the Latter-day Saints.
I have some things resting upon me that I wish to present before the Latter-day Saints, and in order to do this I will call upon President George Q. Cannon to read from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants concerning the subject which I wish to speak upon. (President Cannon read from Sec. 128, of Doc. and Cov. Resuming, President Woodruff said:)
Thus you have before you the subject which is resting upon us, and which we wish to present to the Latter-day Saints. Let me say that age has very little to do with revelation. In an early age of the world, old Father Adam, three years previous to his death-he being nearly one thousand years of age-called together his posterity in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and he stood upon his feet for hours, clothed with the power of God and the revelations of heaven, and blessed his posterity, some seven of whom, each representing a generation, were High Priests. Among them were Enoch and Methusaleh, both great men of their day and generation. He prophesied upon them what should transpire with their posterity unto the end of time. His old age did not have any effect whatever upon the revelations of God to him. Joseph Smith, when fourteen years of age, while calling upon God in the wilderness, had the heavens opened unto him. Both the Father and Son presented themselves unto him in the clouds of heaven, and the Father said, "This is my beloved Son; hear him." The age of man is very short indeed in this day to what it was in ancient days. Men anciently lived to a very great age. When four or five hundred years old they took wives, begat children, and raised up posterity. Today our age is limited to something like three score years and ten.
I wish to say to the Latter-day Saints that we live in a very important generation. We are blessed with power and authority, holding the Holy Priesthood by the commandment of God, to stand upon the earth and redeem both the living and the dead. If we did not do it, we should be damned and cut off from the earth, and the God of Israel would raise up a people who would do it. The Lord would not permit me to occupy this position one day of my life, unless I was susceptible to the Holy Spirit and to the revelations of God. It is too late in the day for this Church to stand without revelation. Not only the President of the Church should possess this gift and give it unto the people, but his counselors and the Apostles and all men that bear the Holy Priesthood, if they magnify their calling, although they may not be called to give revelations to lead and direct the Church. The spirit of revelation belongs to the Priesthood.
But to come to the subject before us. Perhaps it may be said by the inquiring or the objecting mind, What have you to say about redeeming the dead, or about baptism for the dead, or the work of the Temples of our God, that is not already revealed? I will say this: When the Prophet Joseph had this revelation from heaven, what did he do? There are witnesses here of what he did. He never stopped till he got the fulness of the word of God to him concerning the baptism for the dead. But before doing so he went into the Mississippi river, and so did I, as well as others, and we each baptized a hundred for the dead, without a man to record a single act that we performed. Why did we do it? Because of the feeling of joy we had, to think that we in the flesh could stand and redeem our dead. We did not wait to know what the result of this would be, or what the whole of it should be. Finally the Lord told the Prophet: "When any of you are baptized for your dead, let there be a recorder, and let him be eye witness of your baptisms; let him hear with his ears, that he may testify of a truth, saith the Lord; that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven; whatsoever you bind on earth may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven." That was the beginning of this work.
Joseph Smith, instead of living to be nearly a thousand years of age, as Adam did, lived to be about thirty-eight years of age. He brought forth the record of the stick of Joseph in the hands of Ephraim-the history of the ancient inhabitants of this continent. By the power of God he translated that, and it has been published in many languages. Besides this, he organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the chief corner stone. Men were ordained to the Priesthood and sent forth, from the various occupations of life, to carry this gospel to the world. God informed Joseph Smith that he was called to prune the vineyard once more for the last time before the coming of the Son of Man. Since that, thousands of Elders of Israel have been sent into the world to preach the Gospel. Joseph Smith did all this during the fifteen years he held the Priesthood. Let any man read the revelations in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, which were given through him during the little time he spent here in the flesh. It is one of the greatest records that any man ever gave to the human family. Not only this, but he organized the endowments and did a great deal of other work. Who could expect him, during the short time he lived in the flesh, to do more than he did? I received my endowment from under his hands. He brought forth all these ordinances that have been given unto the Latter-day Saints. In fact, it is a marvel and a wonder that he performed as much as he did.
I want to say, as the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that we should now go on and progress. We have not got through revelation. We have not got through the work of God. But at this period we want to go on and fulfillthis commandment of God given through Malachi that the Lord should send Elijah the prophet, "and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." Ye sons of men, I say unto you, in the name of Israel's God, those very principles that God has revealed are what have stayed the judgment of the Almighty on the earth. Were it not for these principles, you and I would not be here today. We have had prophets and apostles. President Young who followed President Joseph Smith, led us here. He organized these Temples and carried out the purposes of his calling and office. He laid the foundation of this great Temple on this block, as well as others in the mountains of Israel. What for? That we might carry out these principles of redemption for the dead. He accomplished all that God required at his hands. But he did not receive all the revelations that belong to this work; neither did President Taylor, nor has Wilford Woodruff. There will be no end to this work until it is perfected.
I want to lay before you what there is for us to do at the present time; and in doing this I desire particularly the attention of President Lorenzo Snow, of the Salt Lake Temple; President M. W. Merrill, of the Logan Temple; President J. D. T. McAllister of the Manti Temple, and President D. H. Cannon, of the St. George Temple, and those associated with them. You have acted up to all the light and knowledge that you have had; but you have now something more to do than you have done. We have not fully carried out those principles in fulfillment of the revelations of God to us, in sealing the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers. I have not felt satisfied, neither did President Taylor, neither has any man since the Prophet Joseph who has attended to the ordinance of adoption in the temples of our God. We have felt that there was more to be revealed upon the subject than we had received. Revelations were given to us in the St. George Temple, which President Young presented to the Church of God. Changes were made there, and we still have more changes to make, in order to satisfy our Heavenly Father, satisfy our dead and ourselves. I will tell you what some of them are. I have prayed over this matter, and my brethren have. We have felt as President Taylor said, that we have got to have more revelation concerning sealing under the law of adoption. Well, what are these changes? One of them is the principle of adoption.
Now, what are the feelings of Israel? They have felt that they wanted to be adopted to somebody. President Young was not satisfied in his mind with regard to the extent of this matter; President Taylor was not. When I went before the Lord to know who I should be adopted to (we were then being adopted to prophets and apostles), the Spirit of God said to me, "Have you not a father, who begot you?" "Yes, I have." "Then why not honor him? Why not be adopted to him?" "Yes," says I, "that is right." I was adopted to my father, and should have had my father sealed to his father, and so on back; and the duty that I want every man who presides over a Temple to see performed from this day henceforth and forever, unless the Lord Almighty commands otherwise, is, let every man be adopted to his father. When a man receives the endowment, adopt him to his father; not to Wilford Woodruff, nor to any other man outside the lineage of his fathers. That is the will of God to this people. I want all men who preside over these temples in these mountains of Israel to bear this in mind. What business have I to take away the rights of the lineage of any man? What right has any man to do this? No; I say let every man be adopted to his father; and then you will do exactly what God said when he declared He would send Elijah the prophet in the last days. Elijah the prophet appeared unto Joseph Smith and told him the day had come when this principle must be carried out. Joseph Smith did not live long enough to enter any further upon these things. His soul was wound up with this work before he was martyred for the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ. He told us that there must be a welding link of all dispensations and of the work of God from one generation to another. This was upon his mind more than most any other subject that was given to him. In my prayers the Lord revealed to me, that it was my duty to say to all Israel to carry this principle out, and in fulfillment of that revelation I lay it before this people. I say to all men who are laboring in these temples, carry out this principle, and then we will make one step in advance of what we have had before. Myself and counselors conversed upon this and were agreed upon it, and afterwards we laid it before all the Apostles who were here (two were absent-Brothers Thatcher and Lund, the latter being in England,) and the Lord revealed to every one of these men-and they would bear testimony of it if they were to speak-that that was the word of the Lord to them. I never met with anything in my life in this Church that there was more unity upon than there was upon that principle. They all feel right about it, and that it is our duty. That is one principle that should be carried out from this time henceforth. "But," says one, "suppose we come along to a man who perhaps is a murderer." Well, if he is a murderer, drop him out and connect with the next man beyond him. But the Spirit of God will be with us in this matter. We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. * * * This is the will of the Lord to his people, and I think when you come to reflect upon it you will find it to be true.
Another principle connected with this subject I want to talk about. A man has married a woman, and they have a family of children. The man lays down in death without ever hearing the Gospel. The wife afterwards hears the Gospel and embraces it. She comes to the temple and she wants to be sealed to her husband, who was a good man. The feeling has been to deny this and to say, "No, he is not in the Church, and you cannot be sealed to your husband." Many a woman's heart has ached because of this, and as a servant of God I have broken that chain a good while ago. I have laid before every woman this principle and let her have her choice. Why deprive a woman of being sealed to her husband because he never heard the Gospel? What do any of us know with regard to him? Will he not hear the Gospel and embrace it in the spirit world? Look at Joseph Smith. Not one of Joseph Smith's fathers or brothers or sisters were in the covenant when he received the keys of the kingdom of God and translated the Book of Mormon. They afterwards received it. Every brother and sister that he had, and his father and his father's brothers, except Uncle Jesse Smith, embraced the Gospel. Now, suppose that any of these had died before they had the opportunity of entering into the covenant with the Lord through the Gospel, as his brother Alvin did; they would have been in the same position as Alvin, concerning whom the Lord, when Joseph saw him in the celestial kingdom, said: "All who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom, for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts."
So it will be with your fathers. There will be very few, if any, who will not accept the Gospel. Jesus while His body lay in the tomb, went and preached to the spirits in prison, who were destroyed in the days of Noah. After so long an imprisonment, in torment, they doubtless gladly embraced the Gospel, and if so they will be saved in the kingdom of God. The fathers of this people will embrace the Gospel. It is my duty to honor my father who begot me in the flesh. It is your duty to do the same. When you do this, the Spirit of God will be with you. And we shall continue this work, the Lord adding light to that which we have already received. I have had friends adopted to me. We all have, more or less. But I have had peculiar feelings about it, especially lately. There are men in this congregation who wish to be adopted to me. I say to them, if they can hear me, Go and be adopted to your fathers, and save your fathers, and stand at the head of your father's house, as saviors upon Mount Zion and God will bless you in this. This is what I want to say, and what I want carried out in our temples.
The Almighty is with this people. We shall have all the revelations that we will need, if we will do our duty and obey the commandments of God. When any of us get so that we cannot receive these revelations, the Lord will take us out of the way and put someone in our places who can. I am here today, on borrowed time, I may say. I would have been in the spirit world today, mingling with the spirits in the presence of God, had it not been for the cry of this people for my life when I lay at the gates of death a year ago. I have been preserved by the power of God. How long I shall live I do not know. It does not make any difference to me. But while I do live I want to do my duty. I want the Latter-day Saints to do their duty. Here is the Holy Priesthood in these mountains. Their responsibility is great and mighty. The eyes of God and all the holy prophets are watching us. This is the great dispensation that has been spoken of ever since the world began. We are gathered together in these mountains of Israel by the power and commandment of God. We are doing the work of God. This is not our home, as far as mortality is concerned. We shall soon pass away. But while here let us fill our mission. I want to say to Brother L. Snow, Brother M. W. Merrill, Brother J. D. T. McAllister and Brother D. H. Cannon, and all associated with you, carry these things before the Lord and see for yourselves. If you are not satisfied with this order of things, go and ask the Lord about it, and the Holy Ghost will reveal to you the truth of these principles.
This is all I ought to say at this time, perhaps upon this subject. I am glad to meet with you. I have had a great anxiety, over this matter. I have had a great desire that I might live to deliver these principles to the Latter-day Saints, for they are true. They are one step forward in the work of the ministry and in the work of the endowment in these temples of our God. * * * A man may say: "I am an Apostle, or I am a High Priest, or I am an Elder in Israel, and if I am adopted to my father, will it take any honor from me." I would say not. If Joseph Smith was sealed to his father, with whom many of you were acquainted, what effect will that have upon his exaltation and glory? None at all. Joseph Smith will hold the keys of this dispensation to the endless ages of eternity. It is the greatest dispensation God ever gave to man, and he was ordained before the world was to stand in the flesh and organize this work. He was martyred for the word of God and testimony of Jesus, and when he comes in the clouds of heaven he will wear a martyr's crown. Those of you who stand here-I do not care whether you are apostles or what you are-by honoring your father you will not take any honor from your heads; you will hold the keys of the salvation of your father's house, as Joseph Smith does. You will lose nothing by honoring your fathers and redeeming your dead. It is a glorious work.
When I returned from England in 1841 and heard Joseph Smith give this revelation, that we had power to redeem our dead, one of the first things I thought was, "I have a mother in the spirit world." My father was in the flesh. I baptized and ordained him and brought him up to Zion, where he is buried. But I never saw my mother to know her. She died when I was an infant. I had power to seal my mother to my father. Was that not a satisfaction? It was to me. I have gone to work with the assistance of my friends and redeemed my father's and my mother's house. When I went to inquire of the Lord how I could redeem my dead, while I was in St. George, not having any of my family there, the Lord told me to call upon the Saints in St. George and let them officiate for me in that temple, and it should be acceptable unto Him. Brother McAllister and the brethren and sisters there have assisted me in this work, and I felt to bless them with every feeling of my heart. This is a revelation to us. We can help one another in these matters, if we have not relatives sufficient to carry this on, and it will be acceptable unto the Lord.
Brethren and sisters, lay these things to heart. Let us go on with our records, fill them up righteously before the Lord, and carry out this principle, and the blessings of God will attend us, and those who are redeemed will bless us in days to come. I pray God that as a people our eyes may be opened to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to understand the great and mighty work that rests upon our shoulders, and that the God of heaven requires at our hand. Great and glorious are these principles which God has revealed to us concerning the redemption of our dead. I tell you when the prophets and apostles go to preach to those who are shut up in prison, and who have not received the Gospel, thousands of them will there embrace the Gospel. They know more in that world than they do here. I pray God that as a people we may have power to magnify our calling in this great and mighty dispensation while we dwell in the flesh that when our work is done we may be satisfied with this life and this work. This is my prayer and the desire of my heart, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
[Clark, James R., Messages of the First Presidency (6 volumes)]