Sunday Evenings with the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132. Part 6: Keys and the Refinement of Things.

This is part 6 of a series of posts on Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, Joseph Smith’s July 12, 1843 revelation on marriage. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are here, here, here, here and here respectively. The next part is here.

Portions of the next verses are perhaps among the more quoted of the revelation of July 12, 1843:

6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

This is the newly defined “new and everlasting covenant,” found in D&C 131 (see part 5). The “fullness of my glory” appeals to the notion of kingdom expansion and the duality of that idea during and after Joseph Smith. See part 8 to come.

7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

This verse is important in understanding part of the modern use of the term priesthood keys. It was the tripwire for anyone (had the revelation been broadly circulated) who hoped to succeed Joseph Smith. There was no real plan here, though the unpublished—at this point—sections 110 and 112 can be read as giving the apostles a leg up. Post martyrdom stories of Joseph turning things over to Brigham, or the apostles, or renouncing polygamy or whatever aside, it is clear that the revelation places high value on this particular power. Today’s church frequently advertises the apostles as custodians of the sealing power, but there is really nothing in the history of angelic authority delivery that guarantees this. Perhaps one of the more interesting things here is that the revelation makes no mention whatsoever of Elijah, whereas twentieth-century narratives mark Elijah as the source of this sealing authority. (Indeed, Orson Pratt’s blockbuster announcement of polygamy in 1852 included a recitation of the April 3, 1836 revelation, the first public announcement of that revelation as well. Talk about double barrels. See also part 12, to come.)[1]

However, it is crystal clear that the post-martyrdom apostles believed that they had this authority, and indeed, Brigham Young’s account of his reaction to the death of Joseph should be read in terms of this sealing authority and more broadly, the endowment, etc., not so much in terms of ecclesial power.[2]

12 I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment–that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord.

13 And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.

15 Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.

This of course is the earthshaking bit. Though marriages had been performed with a view toward blessings in the afterlife, a special imprimatur of sealing was still necessary. And only Joseph had the power to authorize it. Only one person at a time has this power according to the revelation. This, as noted, made succession a bit troubling. While Nauvoo polygamists saw marriage as a way to expand afterlife kingdoms, it was the July 12 revelation that helped formalize the liturgical aspect and impact. Funeral sermons later in the year, (the Elias Higbee sermon and the James Adams sermon) may be read as continuations of the July 12 revelation. Notions such as the Grand Council in Heaven and the perseverance of child–parent links are illuminated by the revelation in some ways.[3]

Next week: Unconditional Sealings (nearly).

[1] Joseph’s October 5, 1840 address is perhaps his most important sermon on several counts. It represents his carefully redacted positions on a number points and may be his only prepared sermon. In it he identifies Elijah’s delivery of authority as the power of perseverance in all sacramental acts. All this without disclosing the April 3, 1836 vision.

[2] See here. Scroll down to the entry for July 16, 1844.

[3] Joseph was somewhat informal in the ways he authorized marriages/sealings. There was no concept of “setting apart” a person to do sealings. That came in Utah in several ways. D&C 124 suggested that sealing power was somehow associated with the office of patriarch (though it is not clear that sealings of marriages existed at the time), and during the “raid,” John Taylor authorized patriarchs to seal couples. Once given, such authority was hard to withdraw, as illustrated by quite a number of early twentieth-century plural marriages by patriarchs.

Apostles in Utah were sometimes authorized to travel in outlying communities and seal couples who, for whatever reason, were constrained from coming to a temple. But those sealings, like those of Nauvoo, were ratified in a temple when circumstances allowed. Moreover, Brigham Young encouraged the idea that sealing was an authority that traveled with apostolic office. In the twentieth century, “the sealing power” became an established meme, as though it was somehow separate from priesthood or additional to priesthood.


  1. Now that I think about, it is probably for this that the FP generally had to approve Sealings for much of the 19th centuries, the bits in note three not withstanding.


  2. Really enjoying this series. Thanks. Two questions: how many parts will there be? And will you ever publish this in one whole? I think it’d be a handy reference all in one spot.

  3. Brilliant post. In regard to footnote 1, I am guessing that by “he identifies Elijah’s delivery of authority as the power of perseverance in all sacramental acts”, you mean Elijah’s authority allows all ordinances of prior dispensations (minus Mosaic law) to be resumed and performed righteously? In other words, the ordinances themselves persevere, not necessarily that the effect of the ordinances persevere because of Elijah.

    I find it interesting that the 5 October 1840 sermon focuses on the sacrifice part of Malachi, bypasses the Mosaic law context of it, and completely neglects the heart of the fathers/children part. I guess he had revealed baptism for the dead already and had more important things on his mind for this.

    The concept of sealing and the restoration by Elijah will forever be separated in my mind now.

  4. Jacob H., I think (in the Oct. 5 sermon) that perseverance extends in two ways, the one you mention, and the stamp of legitimacy (and the implied potentially permanent effects). “Why send Elijah[?] because he holds the Keys of the Authority to administer in all the ordinances of the priesthood and without the authority is given the ordinances could not be administered in righteousness.” I assume he means any of the ordinances.

  5. The 10 March 1844 sermon connects Elijah to the sealing power, right? I’d be interested in any further insights as to how Joseph’s understanding of Elijah’s purpose developed, and how well his ideas were transmitted to the Twelve.


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