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In his youth, Truman Madsen watched his grandparents take their large family to the temple almost every week. Decades later, a friend said, "Your spiritual life began with the temple and everything since has flowed from that." The messages in this book attest to his love of temples. The author of many bestselling books and CDs (including Joseph Smith the Prophet), Brother Madsen teaches how we can gain access to the light and truth offered in the temple. He discusses the relationship of the temple to the Atonement, Joseph Smith's contribution to our understanding of temples, and how the scriptures and the temple illuminate each other. This is a powerful book on a crucial topic by one of the greatest teachers and scholars of our time.
About the Author
Truman G. Madsen received graduate degrees in philosophy and the philosophy of religion from the University of Utah and Harvard. He served as the director of the Judeo-Christian Studies Center at BYU and as director of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. He is widely recognized as an expert on the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Brother Madsen, who passed away in the summer of 2009, was a prolific author who is also known for his memorable audio and video presentations on a variety of gospel subjects.
House of Glory
I begin with a story that goes back before the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, which took forty years to build. President David O. McKay used to tell of a man who didn’t have money enough even to buy shoes to attend a conference in the Tabernacle. During the conference Brigham Young arose and pleaded with the brethren that there needed to be more granite brought for the temple from the quarry about fifteen miles south. It was hauled mostly by ox team. A man came out from this conference and saw another man on the street with a team of oxen. “Why weren’t you in there, Brother?”
“Uh, my feet. I didn’t feel right about going in.”
“Well, Brother Brigham pleaded for more people to get granite.”
“All right,” said the man, “I’ll go. Wo, hah, Buck!” And he started. President McKay’s eyes filled with tears as he related that simple incident. The reason why his name and his image come to mind whenever I think of temples is that it was President McKay who performed the wedding ceremony for my wife, Ann, and myself, and that high privilege was possible for us in part because he had done the same for Ann’s parents. That morning, very early on a June day, he came in his white suit, a white tie, and white hair. There was majesty in his personality. Somehow we knew then, had we ever doubted it, that no one could speak properly if he spoke evil of the temple, for there before us stood its product.
John the Revelator, John the Beloved, envisioning the city Jerusalem in glorified state, said, “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Revelation 21:22). And then he added that not only would the Lamb reign forever, as we sing, but we, having by then been glorified like unto Him, would likewise reign forever and ever (see Revelation 22:5).
The Salt Lake Temple was dedicated with a sense of sacrifice and gratitude that maybe we moderns have not reached. Forty years! Forty thousand people gathered just to see the laying of the capstone! And Lorenzo Snow, then one of the Twelve, led them in the Hosanna Shout. And then Wilford Woodruff, who had had a dream years before that he would somehow be involved in the dedication of that temple (and he was by now the President of the Church), promised that a strict reading of the requirements of worthiness would not be imposed on the members attending the dedicatory services provided they came feasting and repenting. (That was not a slip of the lip, because the Lord defines fasting and prayer in modern revelation—granting it has its negative side of mourning in some places—as rejoicing and prayer [see D&C 59:13–14]. Fasting is feasting on the Spirit, and somehow not partaking of physical food isn’t quite enough. Fasting is a kind of concentration, a kind of pulling ourselves together.)
During a twenty-three-day period of dedicatory services averaging two thousand people each session, some eighty thousand were regenerated. President Woodruff’s entry in his journal at the end of that year was: “The greatest event of the year 1893 is the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Great power was manifest on that occasion.” The scriptural phrase that brings all that into a theme is that we are to receive in temples, through temples, from temples, “power from on high” (D&C 95:8). Christ is the source of that power. The temple is His. Every symbol in and out of that sacred structure points toward Him and, as a cup carries water, transmits the Holy Spirit.
Now let me be specific in terms of needs that all of us feel strongly about in our time. It is a characteristic fact that the Lord has commanded the sacrifice of temple building at the times when apparently our people were least able to build them; and the sacrifice has been immense. But sacrifice brings forth blessings.
In the 1830s the Brethren kept inquiring. They didn’t have our heritage, and they didn’t understand even what the word temple meant. They kept asking, What is it we are doing? Well, we build a temple. What for? And Joseph Smith told them on one occasion, “The endowment you are so anxious about, you cannot comprehend now, nor could Gabriel explain it to [your] understanding.” But prepare, he told them, for great blessings will come. Yet in a preparatory revelation (see D&C 88) the purposes of the temple are outlined. It’s called “a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, . . . a house of God” (D&C 88:119). Prepare yourselves, it says; “sanctify yourselves . . . and [God] will unveil his face unto you” (D&C 88:68).
Let’s discuss each of those purposes.
A house of prayer. “Make yourselves acquainted,” said the Prophet, “with those men who like Daniel pray three times a day toward the House of the Lord.” There is a true principle involved in literally facing the house of God as one prays and as one praises the Lord. The Prophet, as he met with a group of faithful Saints prior to the completion of the Nauvoo Temple (he did not live to see that day), said to them, “[You do] not know how to pray to have your prayers answered.” But, as the sister who recorded that brief statement testifies, she and her husband received their temple blessings, and then came to understand what he meant. A modern Apostle, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, said once to a group of young people about solving their problems: “Study it out in your own minds, reach a conclusion, and then go to the Lord with it and he will give you an answer by that inward burning, and if you don’t get your answer I will tell you where to go—go to the house of the Lord. Go with your hearts full of desire to do your duty. When in the sacred walls of these buildings, where you are entitled to the Spirit of the Lord, and in the silent moments, the answer will come.”
For clues to personal experiences behind that statement we note that in Elder Ballard’s boyhood he often looked up at the Logan Temple and its spires, was inspired by those spires, and wanted to enter the temple worthily regardless of the costs. That meant, for one thing, that he never even entertained the temptation to break the Word of Wisdom, because he knew that might prevent him from entering that building. His later experiences, many having to do with his ministry, were often a derivative of what he felt and experienced within the walls of the sanctuary.
On a personal note, I myself, in a critical year away from home and at school, drove at times to the place in Los Angeles where we had been told there would one day be a temple, just in the feeling that the place might be an added strength to me in prayer. And it proved to be so.
“A house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning.” One of the men who touched my life was Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve, a man who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard after three instead of the usual four years, who was given in that last year an award for the greatest depth of specializing in his field (which was soil chemistry); but they also gave an award that year for the student who had shown the greatest breadth of interests, which he also received. Elder Widtsoe wrote perceptively about the temple and temple worship. I heard him say in sacred circumstances that the promise was given him by a patriarch when he was a mere boy in Norway, “Thou shalt have great faith in the ordinances of the Lord’s House.” And so he did. I heard him say that the temple is so freighted with depth of understanding, so loaded with symbolic grasp of life and its eternal significance, that only a fool would attempt in mere prosaic restatement to explain it in a comprehensive way.
I heard him say that the temple is a place of revelation. And he did not divorce that concept from the recognition that the problems we have are very practical, very realistic, down-to-earth problems. He often said, “I would rather take my practical problems to the house of the Lord than anywhere else.” In his book In a Sunlit Land he describes a day when, having been frustrated for months in trying to pull together a mass of data he had compiled to come up with a formula, he took his companion, his wife, to the Logan Temple to forget his failure. And in one of the rooms of that structure there came, in light, the very answer he had previously failed to find. Two books on agrarian chemistry grew out of that single insight—a revelation in the temple of God.
The temple is not just a union of heaven and earth. It is the key to our mastery of the earth. It is the Lord’s graduate course in subduing the earth, which, as only Latter-day Saints understand, ultimately will be heaven—this earth glorified.
A house of learning? Yes, and we learn more than about the earth. We learn ourselves. We come to comprehend more deeply, in an environment that surrounds us like a cloak, our own identity, something of the roots that we can’t quite reach through memory but which nevertheless are built cumulatively into our deepest selves—an infinite memory of conditions that predate memory. The temple is the catalyst whereby the self is revealed to the self.
There was a period when I was required as an officer in the Ensign Stake to go every Friday to the temple. It was not a burden, as I had thought it would be. It became instead my joy. Slowly, because of that regularity, I was trusted with certain assignments in the temple. I had the privilege to sit for hours in the chapel of the annex or elsewhere, contemplative, reading occasionally, but trying to absorb, trying to breathe the air that is heavier than air in that place. There I would meditate about my critical problems, which had to do with decisions about my life’s work, decisions about the girl I should marry, and other struggles in how to cope. There were times when I learned something about me; there were times when peace came in a decision, and I knew that that peace was of God.
The temple is a house of learning. And it is intended that therein we not simply learn of or about Christ, but that we come to know Him. It has always impressed me that in the Joseph Smith Translation the classic passage about the hereafter when many will say, “Lord, Lord, did we not do this and that?” is rendered more fittingly. The King James Version says that Christ will respond, “I never knew you.” The Joseph Smith Translation renders it, “You never knew me” (Matthew 7:23; JST, Matthew 7:33).
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the restored Church of Jesus Christ. This is the church that teaches us that we can have a direct and immediate living relationship with the living Christ. And we inscribe on temples, “Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord.” He told us, and He didn’t qualify it, that as regards our preparation, “all the pure in heart that come into it shall see God” (D&C 97:16). Elder Orson Pratt pointed out that this promise specifically relates to a temple not yet built, a temple to be erected in the center city, the New Jerusalem, wherein someday Christ actually will dwell and wherein, therefore, any who enter will meet Him. But again, Elders John A. Widtsoe, George F. Richards, Joseph Fielding Smith, and others have borne witness that the promise is more extensive than that, that it applies now. It is a promise that we may have a wonderfully rich communion with Him. Communion! That is to say that we are not simply learning propositions about, but that we are in a participative awareness with.
Occasionally we struggle in amateur research in Church history to understand what kind of a portrait, in terms of sheer physical appearance, we could draw of Christ if we simply utilized what modern witnesses have said about their glimpses of Him. It’s an impressive portrait. But one thing perhaps we sometimes
neglect in that curiosity is an awareness, or a seeking for an awareness, of His personality, of those subtler realities that we already recognize in other persons in all variations but which have been perfected in Him. What would it be like to be in His presence, not simply in terms of what you would see but what you would feel? To give us one clue, He says, “Listen to him . . . who is pleading your cause before [the Father]—saying: Father, behold the
sufferings and death of him who did no sin [that is to say, committed none, but he knows sins, for he experienced temptation to do them all], in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed . . . ; wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren” (D&C 45:3–5). That’s a glimpse of the compassion that one comes to feel in communion—the feeling with, the feeling for, that He has. He is the one personality of whom it cannot truthfully be said, “You don’t know me. You don’t understand me. You don’t care about me.” Because of what He went through, He does know, He does understand, He does care. And He has had us sacrifice to build sacred houses where the linkage of His heart, His “bowels of compassion,” can merge with ours.
The temple is a place of learning to know Him.
And now the phrase “a house of glory, a house of God.” One of the most tender moments of my spiritual life was the day that Rose Wallace Bennett, an author I knew, told me that as a little girl she was present in the dedicatory services of the Salt Lake Temple. She described also the day Wilford Woodruff had a birthday, his ninetieth, when some eight thousand children between the ages of eight and twelve, all dressed in white, were in the Tabernacle and a little girl took ninety roses forward to him. They had gathered to honor him; and then as he had come into the building (under some pretense that there was need of an organ repair), they arose and sang “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” She could not talk about what it felt like to see his tears, or again, what it was like to be in the temple, without herself weeping. But what she said to me was, “Young man, my father brought me to the edge of City Creek Canyon where we could look down on the temple. I testify to you that there was a light around the temple, and it was not due to electricity.”
There are such phrases in all the authentic literature that has to do with temple dedications: “light,” “glory,” “power.” Even some who were not members of the Church at Kirtland came running, wondering what had happened. They wondered if the building was on fire. It was—but with what the Prophet called “celestial burnings,” the downflow of the power of the living God, like encircling flame as on the day of Pentecost. A prayer for that had been offered by the Prophet and by his father, and it was fulfilled (see D&C 109:36-37).
What is glory? It is many things in the scriptures. One strand of meaning is often neglected. If we can trust one Hebrew student, the Hebrew word equivalent to glory, kabod, refers in some of its strands to physical presence. Just as a person says in common parlance today, “He was there in all his glory,” so the Old Testament often uses this word for God. In a psalm that refers to glory (Psalm 8) there are two changes that are crucial. The King James Version reads, “Thou hast made [man] a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” Probably what that verse said originally was, “Thou hast made [man] a little lower than the Gods, and hath crowned him with a physical body and with honor.” This is the truth. The body is a step up in the scale of progression, not a step down. God is God because He is gloriously embodied; and were He not so embodied, He would be less than God.
The privilege of attending the house of God is in effect to have our physical beings brought into harmony with our spirit personalities. And I have read, but cannot quote perfectly, can only paraphrase, the testimony of President Lorenzo Snow to the effect that participating in the temple ceremonies is the only way that the knowledge locked in one’s spirit can become part of this flesh; thus occurs that inseparable union, that blending, which makes possible a celestial resurrection. It is as if, if I may mix the figure, we are given in the house of God a patriarchal blessing to every organ and attribute and power of our being, a blessing that is to be fulfilled in this world and the next, keys and insights that can enable us to live a godly life in a very worldly world, protected—yes, even insulated—from the poisons and distortions that are everywhere.
That is the temple. And the glory of God, His ultimate perfection, is in His house duplicated in us, provided we go there with a susceptible attitude.
Let me briefly discuss the “how” of susceptibility. Listening once in Los Angeles to the plea of President David O. McKay, stake president after stake president pledged contributions to make possible the building of the Los Angeles Temple. They made a commitment. Then he arose and delivered a masterful discourse, maybe the greatest I have ever heard on the subject of temples. In shorthand I jotted down one paragraph which I’m going to quote, but before I do so, let me give this explanation. He told of a girl—a girl, I found out later, who was his niece and therefore felt confident in confiding in him. Earlier that year she had been initiated into a sorority, and not long thereafter she had “gone through the temple” (as we say); I wish that verb could be improved—“going through the temple.” I wish we could somehow speak of the temple going through us. I wish that my children had not been confused—it’s my fault that they were—when my wife and I used to say to them, “We are going to do sealings.” They thought that we would take a stepladder and a bucket. It’s a kind of Mormon activism to talk about “temple work.” There is a sense, of course, in which it is work; but too rarely do we speak of “temple worship,” which can send us back to our work changed.
On this occasion in Los Angeles, President McKay stopped everyone by saying: “This young lady came to me. She had had both experiences, but said she had been far more impressed with her sorority.” We gasped. President McKay was a master of the pause. He let that wait for several seconds and then said: “Brothers and sisters, she was disappointed in the temple. Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the temple.” Then he finished his sentence: “And so were you.” Then no one gasped. He had us.
“Why were we?” he asked. And then he named some of the things. We were not prepared. How could we be, fully? We had stereotypes in our minds, faulty expectations. We were unable to distinguish the symbol from the symbolized. We were not worthy enough. We were too inclined quickly to respond negatively, critically. And we had not yet seasoned spiritually. Those are my words, but they cover approximately what he said. I will give you the quotation verbatim.
This was a man, at that time eighty years of age, who had been in the temple every week for some fifty years, which gave him, I thought, some right to speak. He said: “I believe there are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning and power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence. If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives.”
When he said that, I felt it. I had myself been a critic, had made up my mind that some things were trivial, offensive. But that day the Lord touched me, and I decided that I would not speak again against the house of the Lord. I would not assume I knew better than the prophets. I would listen. And I would repent. And I would hope that someday I could testify as did that noble man. In time there was far more opened up to me than I had ever dreamed.
But there were three things amiss in me, and I dare to suppose these may apply to some others. First, I hadn’t even carefully read the scriptures about the temple. It had not occurred to me that there are over three hundred verses, by my count, in the Doctrine and Covenants alone that talk about the temple and the “hows,” if you will, of preparation. I had not read what the Brethren had said to help us—I was unaware of those statements. Today we are well supplied with informative material in books such as The House of the Lord by Elder James E. Talmage, The Holy Temple by Elder Boyd K. Packer, many articles in the Ensign and other Church magazines; and several articles in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, volume 4.
Second, I was, I am afraid, afflicted with various kinds of unworthiness and not too anxious to change all that. Oh, we talk of it and we aspire. We want change, but we don’t want it enough. We are (and I don’t laugh at poor Augustine for saying this) like Augustine, who said in a prayer, “Oh, God, make me clean, but not yet.” We talk of sacrifice. The one the Lord asks of us now is the sacrifice of our sins—the hardest thing in the world to give up. There’s still a certain bittersweet enjoyment. But His promise is crystal clear: “If you will purify yourselves, sanctify yourselves, I will bless you” (see D&C 88:74). And I’m afraid the postscript is: “And if you don’t, I can’t.”
The third point is that I had a built-in hostility to ritual and to symbolism. I was taught by people both in and out of the Church—with good intention, I have no doubt—that we don’t believe in pagan ceremony; we don’t believe in all these procedures and routines; that’s what they did in the ancient apostate church; we’ve outgrown all that. That in effect is throwing out the baby with the bath water. We’re not against ordinances. God has revealed them anew. And I suspect they are as eternal as are what we often call eternal laws. There are certain patterns or programs, certain chains of transmission, which are eternal. Ordinances tie in with those, if they are not identical with them. God has so decreed, but that decree is based upon the very ultimate nature of reality. You cannot receive the powers of godliness, says the scripture, except through the ordinances (see D&C 84:20). That hadn’t ever entered my soul. I thought our sacraments were a bit of an embarrassment and that sometime we could do away with them. One day it suddenly became clear to me—this is the Lord’s pattern of our nourishment. We need spiritual transformation. We can eat, if you will, receive, drink (the Lord uses all those images) the Living Fountain through ordinances. I pray that we will reach out for what is written, reach out for repentance, and reach out in the recognition that the ordinances are channels of living power.
The dedicatory prayers for temples have from the beginning been given by revelation, and that fact has been puzzling to some. How can the Lord reveal a prayer to offer to Him who has revealed it? There’s nothing contradictory in that. One cannot know fully what to pray until he receives guidance from the Lord. “He that asketh in the Spirit,” says modern revelation, “asketh according to the will of God” (D&C 46:30). You must listen in order to know what to say. And prayers that are all ask and no listen lack something in effectiveness.
The temple is the place where we can come to understand what the Lord would have us ask. And it is the place where we can ask in silence, in joy, in earnestness.
Years ago I was involved in the Ensign Stake genealogical committee. We held a series of firesides. The climactic one of six, on temple marriage, was given by President Joseph Fielding Smith. But the week before that I had been asked to speak on vital temple purposes. I struggled with that. I was talking to young people. What was most remarkable came toward the end of what I said. I wanted somehow to let them know that my own assurance about marriage had come within the walls of the temple.
But I didn’t want to acknowledge publicly that I was going to marry this girl. That had not yet been said in private, and therefore I didn’t think it should be said in public. But there came down on me that night (and I have a tape recording that tells the story) such a witness that I announced, “The Lord has made known to me that I am to be married, and to whom.” She was on the front row, sitting next to my father. It came as a bit of a surprise to him, too. There was much salt water spilled. Have you heard Pasternak’s phrase, “Be so close to those you love that when they weep you taste salt”? I did. I gasped, though, at what I had said and wanted somehow to alter, qualify, call back, change. That was shown in several seconds of silence. Then at last all I could do was say, “In the name of the Lord, amen,” and sit down.
For all of us there is something about the temple that can change our lives. We need to reach for it, to honor it, if need be to sacrifice for it, sacrificing even our sins. Some of us have fought against that, as I fought against it, because it means change, maybe some painful change. But that change is the Spirit of God working on the soul, and it will come to each one of us. We will honor the promptings and let the Lord take over in our lives.
The Lord is in His temples, where He ministers personally and manifests Himself to the faithful therein. With the power of Christ in His sanctuary, it is intended that all of us drink deeply, receive powerfully, and then testify worthily of that glorious truth. In this way we will come to share in the joys and blessings of the radiant life.
by Sarah - reviewed on October 23, 2008
We love this book. It is excellent and you learn a lot!
by Customer - reviewed on November 02, 2010
I wanted to like this book. I was hoping it would provide insights. Alas, I found the number of gratuitous personal references distracting, the folksy tone irritating and the lack of any structure or orderly presentation difficult to follow. Disappointing.
by Customer - reviewed on September 30, 2008
What a great book to read to grow closer to the temple.
by Kristin - reviewed on November 13, 2008
We love this book and the insite that it gives to us and our children at the age of preparing to go to the temple!
by Chris - reviewed on October 12, 2008
This book will help you build a desire to go to the temple. What more could you need?