The mission of Elijah is so important, his conferral of priesthood keys so vital to our salvation and to the work of the church in the latter days that I will reiterate many of the things that [our stake patriarch] spoke about so we can both serve as witnesses to the truth of the prophecy of Malachi and of Elijah’s mission. Elder Cook spoke on this topic this past General Conference and a number of others also addressed it.
The last two verses of the Old Testament contain prophecies about restoration:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 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.” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Those verses refer to Elijah (whose name is a testimony of God), his return to the earth, and the subsequent conversion of hearts. The Savior quoted these verses when He visited the Nephites after His resurrection (3 Nephi 25:5-6). Moroni quoted them the first time he appeared unto Joseph Smith.
Moroni gave the scripture with minor differences; this rendition is found in Doctrine and Covenants 2: “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. 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.” (D&C 2:1-3). Instead of turning hearts of fathers to children, the children will have the promises made unto the fathers planted in their hearts. These are promises, or covenants, made by The Lord to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they are promises made to other prophets; they are promises made to our ancestors. This has direct applications to the restoration of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ for the Restoration is a restoration of covenants given in days long past.
The restoration of covenants came through visitations of holy messengers. One of those visitors was Elijah, who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, the day when Jews around the world had a place set for him in expectant welcome at their tables during the Passover. Joseph Smith recalled the experience:
“Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.” (D&C 110:14-16).
Since that time – since the keys of the sealing of families together forever were restored – we’ve had an exponential increase in the yearnings of fathers and mothers to daughters and sons, an increase in the spirit of Elijah that bears witness of the divine nature of the family (see Russell M. Nelson, “A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34).
In Deuteronomy we are commanded to learn about history, specifically our family history: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deuteronomy 32:7).
At this past General Conference Elder Anderson counseled: “Find your grandfathers and grandmothers and your distant cousins who have gone before you. Take their names to the temple with you. As you learn about your ancestors, you will see patterns of life, of marriage, of children; patterns of righteousness; and occasionally patterns that you will want to avoid.” (Spiritual Whirlwinds, Elder Anderson, April 2014). As we study the lives of those who came before, we can be inspired by them or be warned by their poor choices. We can strive to emulate their faithfulness and seek to improve shortcomings they and we might have.
I’d like to share three stories from my family that illustrate faith and devotion to God. The are illustrative of the spirit of Elijah and the sealing keys restored through him.
A group of individuals from England believed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had strayed from the truth delivered by Christ. Facing persecution from government and church leaders in England, many fled to Holland where they experienced greater religious freedom. They struggled to earn a living in Holland so they sought a new place where they could worship according to the dictates of their conscience. What looked most promising was America. After delays, they started a journey filled with peril and a trans-Atlantic voyage on the ship Mayflower lasting 66 days. The Pilgrims celebrated their arrival with prayer and thanksgiving to God. On the crowded ship off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the Pilgrims wrote and signed an important document. That document was the Mayflower Compact.
Part of that document stated: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience.”
The Mayflower Compact was signed by the adult males on the ship as a testament that they established a new colony for the glory of God and to spread Christianity. Two of my ancestors, Francis Cooke and Richard Warren, signed the Compact. The weary travellers had a harsh winter full of sickness and starvation ahead. Many died but many survived, spreading out and serving as a lasting foundation for what would eventually become a new nation founded upon God-given rights and freedoms; a nation where the Restoration of the gospel could occur and where Elijah could come to restore keys of sealing. I’m grateful for the sacrifices made, courage shown, and dedication to God by the Pilgrims.
I’d like to jump ahead more than 200 years to the year 1854 and travel 350 miles to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
One of my great-grandfathers – Samuel Linton – was on a quest to discover religious truth. He told of his conversion to the gospel of Christ, which occurred shortly after his father unexpectedly died: “I made up my mind to go and hear every sect and party that professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [to discover which I thought was true]. I saw [an] advertisement of the Latter-day Saints which read like this: ‘Elder Samuel Harrison of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would preach at ten o’clock on Sunday at 7th and Callow Hill, and he would show that neither Protestant nor Catholic had the true gospel preached to them.’ This took my attention. I thought they were the most presumptuous people I had heard of, to style themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I thought I must go and hear them first. I was there on time. The people began to gather in. I thought they were the most sociable, happy people I had ever seen. The Elder came in and went up on the stand and gave out a hymn. I thought it, and the prayer, was the most sensible I had ever heard. He preached from the New Testament, and quoted passages of scripture that I had committed to memory in Methodist Sabbath School, but he applied them in such a different light that it bothered me to understand it…. When meeting was over I was in no hurry to go. There was a man by the name of Luts, a perfect stranger to me. He asked what I thought of the preaching. I told him I had no fault to find. I asked him a great many questions. He answered me satisfactorily. He told me if I would come back in the afternoon, he would lend me a book, which, if I would read, I could learn a great deal about the Gospel. I read it, I was convinced that the Lord had restored the Gospel and the authority to administer the Ordinances thereof, I applied for baptism. They asked me if I had considered the consequences. He asked me if I was ready to have my friends turn against me and have my name cast out as evil, and suffer persecution, and perhaps lay down my life. I considered a moment, and I thought the former-day Saints had to take all these chances, so I told him I was prepared for all this. He said on these conditions you may be baptized. They were about three weeks before they were ready to go. There were quite a few baptized. There was plenty of ice to be moved, so we had a cold bath. We were all right. We took no harm. This was the first of January, 1854.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 1 of 3).
Samuel joined and remained firm in the faith even though it caused conflict with some of his family. He emigrated to Utah, living near Salt Lake for a while until he was called to what was referred to as the “Muddy Mission” – colonizing St. George, Utah. Samuel went without question. All of Samuel’s life he exhibited great faith; his daughter spoke of his faith: “We never had to call a doctor if father administered to us, we got well immediately, no matter what ailed us.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).
From Utah, through letters, Samuel tried to teach his mother and family who were living in Philadelphia. He took two trips back east to teach his family. I’ll quote from a history about him: “[Samuel] was very anxious to have his folks join the church. His father died a year after they came to Philadelphia and [Samuel] later left to gather with the Saints. After 20 years he got a letter from his mother through the dead letter office. [Samuel] began writing trying to convert [his mother and siblings]. Later he made two trips to visit them, but they were too full of prejudice to talk to him or listen so no more joined the church, but he has had their work done in the Temple which we hope they have learned to accept and appreciate.” (Source: Morgan 10: Samuel Linton and Ellen Sutton Linton, Part 3 of 3).
Samuel, in being baptized, had his family turn against him but he knew the gospel was true. He believed in the ordinances of the temple and made sure those ordinances were performed for his family so they could, if they accepted the work, be part of the great chain of generations welded to each other and ultimately to our Eternal Father.
In Doctrine and Covenants 128 Joseph Smith quotes 1st Corinthians 15:29 referencing baptism for the dead and then explains what it means. In Joseph’s explanation, he quotes Malachi.
“16 And now, in relation to the baptism for the dead, I will give you another quotation of Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:29: Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead? And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: 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…. The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:16-18).
The prophecy and promise of Malachi foretold of the role of Elijah in helping restore the keys necessary to save families by welding generation to generation.
I will relate one more story, this time jumping ahead 150 years from the time when my ancestor Samuel joined the church. This is an experience I particularly felt prompted to share this morning [in Sacrament Meeting].
My cousin Mike and his wife Marinda were pregnant with their first child in the fall of 2004. At the first ultrasound appointment in the spring of 2005 they found out that their daughter was 2 weeks behind in development. Additionally, their daughter had abnormal “heart ventricles, irregular blood flow through the umbilical cord, and a large cyst on the brain.” The signs pointed to a rare genetic condition where one of the baby’s genes had three copies instead of just two. This genetic disorder is considered “incompatible with life” meaning that if the baby made it to term, she would live a short time at best. Tears of joy became tears of sorrow at the news. My cousin and his wife quickly turned to family, friends, and their Heavenly Father for counsel and comfort. They attended the temple, read scriptures, and prayed. They decided on the name Hope for their baby as a reminder of the joys of life and blessings of the gospel even through sore trials.
Hope arrived 5 weeks early at just 3 pounds; she was born with difficulty but she was alive. Knowing her mortal life would be short, Hope’s parents held her and enjoyed her presence. They both felt filled with a “warm and peaceful spirit” that provided strength and comfort. Through the sacred power of the priesthood, Hope received a blessing from her father. After a short 52 minutes of life, Hope’s spirit left her body.
Hope’s mother Marinda wrote of the experience immediately after her passing: “While Mike and I were alone with Hope [after her death], we felt her sweet presence with us. I know that she wasn’t far. Hope’s experience on earth was short, but I can say without any reservation that every one of those 52 minutes was filled with love. She was surrounded by people who will always love her so dearly. Just the same, she was able, in such a short time and with such a small body, to impart such a pure and simple love to those who would mourn her passing.” (Source: http://www.hopewessman.net/2009/05/hopes-story-her-miraculous-life.html)
We read in the scriptures: “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.” (2 Nephi 2:8-9). The atonement of Jesus Christ brings hope! Even those passing through the darkest abyss can feel peace. Those who have departed are merely that – parted from us but not forever lost.
Because of the atonement of Christ, because of the sealing power of the priesthood that was restored unto Joseph Smith by the prophet Elijah, families can be together forever! We know that tears of sorrow and that separation are only for a small moment. Even though hearts rend in suffering, Christ repairs the breach; He binds up the broken-hearted. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of fathers and mothers, which might be broken, turn to their children. The spirit of Elijah helps hearts of children turn to their mothers and fathers. As temple ordinances are performed, families are welded together for eternity.
My cousin and his wife had three other children born without complications after Hope. Then, in 2012 they found out that the baby they were expecting – Amelia Grace – had the same genetic condition as Hope. The same shock and sorrow hit them but they knew that they had coped with the death of Hope and they could cope with Amelia’s. They again found strength in the atonement and in the blessings of the temple. Amelia died during the birthing process but through the sealing power of the holy priesthood, Amelia and Hope can be Mike and Marinda’s eternally!
My cousin shared his testimony after the death of Amelia: “The loss of one’s child is not a pleasant experience. While I do not know why Marinda and I have this experience, I testify that we are strengthened through Christ, knowing that we can be reunited with our…daughter(s) again one day. For this is part of God’s plan for each of his children who seek to follow him.” (Source: http://www.ameliawessman.net/p/a-fathers-thoughts.html)
I testify that those who have experienced such great loss can find healing through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify that this what the mission of Elijah is ultimately about – allowing for families to be sealed together for eternity. I pray that we all remember the words of Malachi and turn our hearts to our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and participate in the sacred work of the temple.