“Endowed with power from on high”

The revelations we are studying this week continue with themes found in revelations from throughout 1830, such as an imminent Second Coming and the gathering, but also set up an expectation for an endowment of power that would be an important theme for much of the remainder of Joseph Smith’s ministry.

After the conversion of a significant number of people in Kirtland and the subsequent arrival of Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge in New York to meet Joseph Smith in December 1830, a set of revelations were recorded that indicated that the headquarters of the Church should shift to Ohio for the time being.  On 30 December 1830, a revelation stated that: “A commandment I give unto the Church that it is expedient in me that they should assemble together at the Ohio.”[1]  Three days later, after requests for further information about this command to move to Ohio, another revelation came that drew upon a significant amount of eschatological imagery, stating that: “The day soon cometh that ye shall see me & know that I am for the chains <?vails?> of vails of darkness shall soon be rent & he that is not purified shall not abide the day,”[2] but added that: “ if ye are prepared ye need not fear.”  It went on to state that it is in preparation for that time that the commandment to gather to the Ohio was given, “that ye might escape the power of the enemy & be gethered unto me a Righteous people without spot & blameless Wherefore for this cause I gave unto you The commandment that ye should go to the Ohio.”  This observation was followed with a promise: “There I will give unto you my law & there you shall be endowed with power from on high.”[3]  The call to gather to Kirtland, Ohio was put in terms of preparing for the Second Coming, and included promises of important blessings.

The second of the two promises—to be endowed with power from on high—draws upon the writings of Luke in the New Testament.  At the end of the Gospel According to St Luke, the resurrected Lord tells his disciples that: “I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”[4]  Luke continues to draw on this theme in the Acts of the Apostles, where he reminds readers that Jesus statement, with the promise that: “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”[5]  The endowment of power that Jesus spoke of seems to be the gift of the Holy Ghost, with an eye towards enabling the disciples to bear witness more powerfully throughout the world.  This is portrayed as being fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when “they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”[6]  Peter spoke about Jesus, and told those present to “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  … Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”[7]  Thus, in the New Testament, the promise of an endowment of power from on high was fulfilled with the gift of the Holy Ghost and subsequent success in missionary efforts.

In drawing on this imagery and phraseology, the revelations of Joseph Smith indicated that God was going to give the Saints another endowment of power that would be helpful in missionary efforts.  The 2 January 1831 revelation (Section 38) indicated immediately after announcing the forthcoming endowment of power that: “From thence whomsoever I will shall go forth among all Nations & it shall be told them what they shall do for I have a great work laid up in store.”[8]  This missionary focus may have been influenced by Sidney Rigdon, who had taught “that a ‘complete’ restoration of the New Testament church would include such original supernatural gifts as faith healing, miracles, tongues and prophecy—and that these manifestations would validate ‘authorization.’”[9]  Although a recent convert, Rigdon had criticized Oliver Cowdery’s band of missionaries for attempting to perform the signs and miracles but failing.  As stated in a local newspaper: “Mr. Rigdon now blames Cowdery for attempting to work miracles, and says it was not intended to be confirmed in that way.”[10]  This objection may have been part of what led to the promise of an endowment of power that would give missionaries the ability to perform miracles.  Ideally, these miracles would then provide proof of the missionaries’ authorization from the Lord to potential converts, allowing them to work more effectively.  While the revelation’s promise of being given “my law” was seen as being fulfilled by the February 1831 revelations that are now compiled in Section 42, the endowment of power was something that the Saints looked at several different things as the time at which that promise was fulfilled.

The earliest fulfilment of the endowment of power was tied to ordination to the high priesthood and a meeting of elders held in the summer of 1831.  Expectations were set up fairly early—a revelation given in February 1831 mandated a conference of the elders and promised that: “It shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together.”[11]  Another revelation, given to Ezra Thayer in May 1831, revealed more about the form that this endowment of power would take: “Let my servant Ezra humble himself and at the conference meeting he shall be ordained unto power from on high and he shall go from thence (if he be obedient unto my commandments) and proclaim my Gospel.”[12]  Thus, both an outpouring of the Spirit and an ordination prior to proclaiming the Gospel were to be a part of the endowment of power.

The conference of elders was opened on 3 June 1831 in a schoolhouse in Kirtland.  On the second day, the meeting experienced some miraculous proceedings.  Participants who wrote about the events as a Pentecostal experience that included revelation, prophesy, vision, healing, casting out evil spirits, and speaking in unknown tongues.  The high priesthood was also conferred upon Church members for the first time, constituting the ordination part of the endowment of power.[13]  (I will note in passing that there are ongoing debates about whether or not this high priesthood is equivalent to what we currently call the Melchizedek priesthood or something else, but that’s a discussion beyond the scope of this post.)  One participant indicated that those who attended the conference left claiming “to be endowed with the same power as the ancient apostles were.”[14]

Although the conference, with its outpouring of spiritual gifts and ordinations, was an initial endowment of power, Joseph Smith indicated that more preparation was necessary for missionaries to be successful.  In a revelation given at the end of 1832, the Saints were commanded to organize and sanctify themselves, “teach one another,” and to build a “house of God” so that they could be “perfected, in your ministry to go forth among the gentiles, for the last time . . . and to prepare the saints, for the hour of judgments, which is to come.”[15]  Joseph Smith summarized the commands of this revelation when he wrote: “The Lord commanded us in Kirtland to build an house of God, & establish a school for the Prophets.”[16]  The school was organized in January 1833 and met intermittently during the years 1833-1836 in both Kirtland and in Missouri.  Men ordained to the priesthood participated, and the curriculum ranged from language to history and current events to theology.  In addition, rituals designed to help the Saints draw closer to God and to each other were included in the proceedings.  Elements from these rituals became incorporated into temple rituals in preparation for a great endowment of power.

Initially, the house of the Lord was conceived by the Saints as a meeting place for the School of the Prophets.  After the school convened in April 1833, Church leaders purchased land and began to organize for construction of a meeting house.  In May 1833, a council of high priests discussed “the necessity of building a school house for the purpose of accommodating the Elders who should come in to receive their education for the ministry,” and appointed a committee to raise money for the building.[17]  Soon, though, the Prophet suggested something grander than what they initially had in mind.  A June 1833 revelation stated that they should build “an house in the which” God planned “to endow those whom I [the Lord] have chosen with power from on high.”  Rather than a log house, as was initially suggested, the building was to be a large stone building, with at least two levels.  The lower level would be “dedicated unto me for your sacrament offerings and for your preaching and your fasting and your praying” while the upper level would be “dedicated unto me for the school of mine Apostles.”[18]  The house of God had evolved from a schoolhouse into a sacred meetinghouse where an endowment of power would be received.

The exact nature of the endowment of power that would be received in the house of God had several elements but was largely expected to be a Pentecostal outpouring of spiritual gifts that would help the elders in preaching the gospel.  One element of the endowment was the practical function of gaining an education before embarking on missionary work, since the house was to be “a place of instruction for all those who are called to the work of the ministry.”[19]

Another element of the endowment was to behold the face of God.  As stated in an August 1833 revelation (written in the voice of God) about the temple in Zion: “My glory shall rest upon it yea and my presence shall be therefor I will come into it and all the pure in heart that shall come into shall see God.”[20]  Likewise, Joseph Smith indicated that Saints in Kirtland were promised “a visit from the heavens to honor us with his [the Lord’s] own presence” if they built a house of God and established a school.[21]  He also taught that they might behold other things, but that “if God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourselves . . . and you shall have a prelude of those joys that God will pour out on that day.”[22]

A third element of the endowment was a closer association with the Spirit of God and the power of God.  For example, a blessing given in January 1836 told Lorenzo Barnes that he would be “endowed with power from on high” if he was faithful, and that through this endowment: “The spirit of the highest shall rest upon thee” and enable him to preach the Gospel.[23]  Joseph Smith also taught that those who were endowed would “be able to overcome all things, and those that reject your testimony shall be damned[,] the sick will be healed the lame made to walk the deaf to hear the blind to see through your instrumentality.”[24]  Thus, like the earlier endowment of the high priesthood, this endowment was expected to grant the elders an increased ability to work miracles.

The events of the Kirtland Temple dedication and meetings held in the house of the Lord around that time fulfilled some of these expectations.  Records of meetings held throughout the first few months of 1836 are filled with descriptions of visions of angels or God, an outpouring of the Holy Ghost, and other spiritual experiences that met the expectation of a Pentecostal outpouring of God’s presence in the participants’ lives.  Afterwards, Joseph Smith told that the men who attended the solemn assembly meeting at the temple that he “had now completed the organization of the church, and we had passed through all the necessary ceremonies; that I had given them all the instruction they needed, and  that they now were at liberty, after obtaining their licences, to go forth and build up the kingdom of God.”[25]

The endowment ceremony administered in the Nauvoo Temple was, in many ways, an attempt to encapsulate the endowment spoken of in Kirtland in a ritualized format.  Joseph Smith presented the endowment in the Red Brick Store that served as headquarters of the Church prior to the temple’s construction, and then Brigham Young expanded on and organized the endowment after Joseph Smith’s death.  Most of the ceremonies took place in the attic level of the temple, which was partitioned into a series of rooms by canvass.  After being washed and anointed (rituals initially associated with the Kirtland Temple and the School of the Prophets), participants took part in instructions in the form of a ritual drama summarizing Latter-day Saint beliefs about the creation of the earth, the Fall of Adam and Eve, trials and temptations faced during mortal life, etc.[26]  At the end of the endowment ceremony, participants entered into the Celestial Room—a beautifully decorated room representing the place where God dwells, capturing the idea of experiencing the presence of God.  To this day, the endowment ceremony that is practiced in the temples descends from this Nauvoo endowment and is generally considered as being prerequisite to serving a full-time mission in the Church, maintaining the connection to missionary work that was a part of the endowment of power from the initial announcement in early 1831.

Thus, when the January 1831 revelation promised the Saints that when they gathered to the Ohio they would “be endowed with power from on high,” it set up years of efforts to prepare for and seek out that endowment of power.  Initially, ordination to the high priesthood, which began in summer of 1831, was understood to be the endowment.  The school of the prophets or school of the elders that was held off and on through subsequent years served as endowment in some ways and led to the construction of the house of the Lord in Kirtland.  The Pentecostal experiences associated with that house of the Lord are also understood as a fulfillment of the promised endowment of power.  And, as the name implies, the endowment ceremony that was initially performed in the Nauvoo Temple—and which continues to be performed in an altered form in temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—is a continuation of our seeking the endowment of power in our own time.

 

A note: While I have touched on the ceremonies related to the temple, including descriptions of ceremonies in the Nauvoo temple that go as far as the Church is willing to share at temple open houses and in publications, I will remind commenters that aspects of the temple not for public discussion are not up for discussion here.

 

Further Reading:

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Revelation, 30 December 1830 [D&C 37],” p. 49, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-30-december-1830-dc-37/1

[2] “Revelation, 2 January 1831 [D&C 38],” p. 50, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-2-january-1831-dc-38/2

[3] “Revelation, 2 January 1831 [D&C 38],” p. 52, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-2-january-1831-dc-38/4

[4] Luke 24:49, KJV, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/nt/luke/24?lang=eng.

[5] Acts 1:4-8.

[6] Acts 2:1-4.

[7] Acts 2:38, 41.

[8] “Revelation, 2 January 1831 [D&C 38],” p. 52, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 11, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-2-january-1831-dc-38/4

[9] Cited in Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 653.

[10] Painsville Telegraph [Ohio], February 15, 1831.

[11] “Revelation, February 1831–B [D&C 44],” p. 70, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 14, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-february-1831-b-dc-44/1

[12] “Revelation, 15 May 1831,” p. 85, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 14, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-15-may-1831/1

[13] For an example, see “John Corrill, A Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1839,” p. 18, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed February 9, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/john-corrill-a-brief-history-of-the-church-of-christ-of-latter-day-saints-1839/16

[14] Cited in Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, 180-81

[15]Revelation, 27–28 December 1832 [D&C 88:1–126].”

[16] Joseph Smith letter to William W. Phelps, Jan. 11, 1833, in Letterbook 1, page 19, josephsmithpapers.org.

[17] “Minute Book 1,” p. 20, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/minute-book-1/24

[18] “Revelation, 1 June 1833 [D&C 95],” pp. 59-60, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-1-june-1833-dc-95/2

[19] “Revelation, 2 August 1833–A [D&C 97],” p. 63, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-2-august-1833-a-dc-97/3

[20] “Revelation, 2 August 1833–A [D&C 97],” p. 63, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-2-august-1833-a-dc-97/3

[21] “Letter to William W. Phelps, 11 January 1833,” p. 19, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-william-w-phelps-11-january-1833/2

[22] “Journal, 1835–1836,” p. 33, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1835-1836/34

[23] “Blessing to Lorenzo Barnes, 3 January 1836,” p. [49], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/blessing-to-lorenzo-barnes-3-january-1836/3?highlight=endow

[24] “Journal, 1835–1836,” p. 34, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed March 14, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/journal-1835-1836/35

[25] “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” p. 725, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 14, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-b-1-1-september-1834-2-november-1838/179

[26] See Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera, The Nauvoo Endowment Companies (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005), xv-xxv.

6 comments for ““Endowed with power from on high”

  1. If I were still teaching the GD class, I think I’d use Chad’s summary of the historical background. I might then ask how any have felt their participation in the modern temple rites to be an endowment with “power from on high.” For many it doesn’t feel like that at all — not as to being filled with the Holy Ghost, or with power to preach and convert, or with spiritual gifts. For some of them the word “endowment” in the LDS context seems to have lost its English language meaning entirely. I’m guessing there would be some responses to that question that could be helpful.

  2. Yes, Jonathan. For a lot it is a Really Big Deal. For many, including some for whom it is a Really Big Deal, it is not a matter of perceiving/receiving “power from on high.” I think the difference may lie in expectations, or may in some cases be merely semantic. Maybe there are also some real experiential differences. My point is not that no one experiences “power from on high,” but that discussion can be helpful. I don’t think I’d be surprised at all. See my last sentence.

  3. It’s a good question, Wondering, and one that I think is worth reflecting on. I can’t say that I walked away from my live endowment session feeling like I had been endowed with power from on high in the sense of an increased capacity for spiritual gifts or an intense spiritual experience that I could draw on in bearing testimony. I walked away from it more confused and overwhelmed because of how different the experience was from anything else I had gone through in the Church. After years of experience with the temple, I do feel like I am able to connect with the Holy Spirit more easily in the temple when I’m able to attend, so that could be understood as a bit of an endowment of power.

    Another way of looking at it is that the endowment of power is one related more to knowledge/information. I seem to remember there being an article published by Joseph Smith or Hyrum Smith in Nauvoo about the temple where the author said something along the lines of: knowledge is power and we want power, we will get that knowledge/power in the temple (again, going on a vague memory of something I read years ago and dimly recall). Maybe some of the information conveyed through the endowment ceremony is meant to be the power that is being conveyed.

  4. This is a great article that follows the historical progression of the endowment in the early days of the church!

    The jump from the Kirtland endowment to the Nauvoo endowment ceremony, however, seems to skip over critical elements of history. The article doesn’t even touch on the saints rejecting the Law of the Lord, the fulness of the priesthood being taken from them, the Lord’s giving them a second chance at getting it back by building the Nauvoo temple within a certain time window, Joseph’s involvement with the secret society of Masons, the introduction of secret knowledge and handshakes into the endowment ceremony, the secret teachings of polygamy that were causing contention and dissenting within the church, the failure of the saints to complete the Nauvoo temple, the destruction of the Nauvoo temple by fire and by a tornado, the later teachings of Adam=God taught by Brigham Young in the endowment, the penal oaths, and the continual changes made by the church in the years that followed up to the present day.

    These are all critical pieces of the story that must be considered when we want to understand how the “endowment of power” today has changed from what it was originally. I was not endowed with power at the temple, despite participating in the ordinance and believing with all my heart that it was going to fill me with power from on high. I believe there is much more to come from the Lord in a future date.

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