What is an endowment? is an important question to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Simply put, an endowment is “A special spiritual blessing given to worthy and faithful members of the Church in the temple.”1 James E. Faust, a former counselor in the First Presidency taught:
Each temple building is an inspiration, magnificent and beautiful in every way, but the temple building alone does not bless. The endowed blessings and divine functions—involving much that is not of this world, such as priesthood keys—come through obedience and faithfulness to priesthood authority and covenants made. As we feel and see the awesome beauty of each temple, we see in vision and hold in our remembrance the endless blessings that will come to so many through its being.2
The Endowment – A Gift
Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles taught the following concerning the endowment:
In the temple we receive an endowment, which is, literally speaking, a gift. We need to understand the spiritual significance of it and the importance of keeping the sacred covenants and obligations we make in receiving this gift. Each “temple ordinance is not just a ritual to go through, it is an act of solemn promising.”3 The temple endowment was given by revelation. Thus, it is best understood by revelation, vigorously sought with a pure heart.4
Elder Nelson went on to teach the importance of preparation in attending to the sacred ordinances of the temple:
Parents should teach the importance of the temple from a child’s earliest days. President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) taught members of the Church to display a picture of a temple in their homes where children could see it and plan from their earliest years to go there and to remain worthy of that privilege. Under President Gordon B. Hinckley’s inspired direction, temples have become more readily accessible. Now that temples have been prepared for the people, the people need to prepare themselves for the temple.5
What is an Endowment?
Echoing President Faust and Elder Nelson’s teachings, Andrew F. Ehat addressed the question What is an endowment? in “’Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord?’ Sesquicentennial Reflections of a Sacred Day: 4 May 1842”:
The Prophet Joseph Smith did many things publicly to prepare the Saints for the promised blessing of the endowment. Just the record of his public sermons would serve us well in the quest for preparation.6 Let us look at only one of these public sermons in which the Prophet Joseph refers to an ancient example of the sacred endowment.
Three days before first administering the endowment, the Prophet Joseph spoke to the assembled thousands in the grove on temple hill near the emerging Nauvoo Temple. There, in his Sunday sermon on 1 May 1842, he spoke of the endowment blessings to be poured out when the temple was completed. In this public sermon, he told them that the endowment would confer on them “the keys of the kingdom. . . . The keys are certain signs and words by which false spirits and personages may be detected from true, which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed. The rich can only get [the endowment keys] in the Temple, the poor may get them on the mountain top as did Moses.”7
The one obvious question is, “Where is recorded and when did Moses receive his endowment?” Certainly, his experience recorded in Exodus 3, when he by foot ascended the mount and saw the fiery, burning bush, was a portion of an endowment. In fact, sacred experiences in the Spirit have an infinite spectrum of manifestations, all constituting a true endowment. Any true outpouring of the Spirit becomes a sacred trust, regardless of comparative intensity. But what we speak of here as Moses’ endowment was the profound spiritual experience that occurred many years later. The record of this endowment begins in Moses 1 in our Pearl of Great Price.
This chapter—a restored chapter not found in the traditional scriptures—gives us far greater insight into Genesis. From Moses 1 we learn that Genesis is not merely a general history written by Moses or a pseudepigraphic story of the Hebrews allegedly written in Moses’ name. Instead Moses 1 sets Genesis up as a highly personal revelation to Moses—an essential endowment of knowledge and power given prior to his mission to Egypt to reclaim lost Israel (see verses 25-26). He did not compile history as Elder Richards did: he was shown the history. Moses 1 begins as each endowment begins, with heaven and earth joining. This time, Moses ascended, not by foot but by the transporting power of the Spirit.8 He was caught up into a mountain the name of which is not now known to us (see verse 42). There he spoke with God face to face. Once this outpouring of the abundance of the Spirit subsided, Moses found himself on his back for many hours. When he came to his strength again, he exclaimed, “Now . . . I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (verse 10). Think of him, reflect on the fact that for the first forty years of his life, he had been primped, pampered, and prepared as a prince, even to become a king in Egypt. For all he had known, he was a member of the royal family, even a god. He had access to the greatest knowledge and library in the world. And now, at age eighty, forty years after his experience at the burning bush, having received the fulness of the endowment for the first time, he realized that he had not been fully prepared for this endowment.9
Preparing for the Endowment
Tonight as I attended the temple, I reflected on the following words:
Throughout the ages, the endowment has been a difficult experience for which to prepare. No specific length of time assures proper preparation . . . From the scriptural history of the endowment of this and past dispensations, may I conclude by suggesting seven prerequisite, continuous preparations required for those who seek these sacred blessings: (1) Experience, especially experience with the Spirit of the Lord; (2) service, as shown by a willingness to serve as a witness of the Savior, not simply by the sacrifice of worldly, but also of other worthy yet less-important enjoyments; (3) purity, in body, in mind, in spirit; (4) prayer and study, particularly about the promises and previous outpourings of such blessings in this as well as in prior dispensations; (5) obedience and repentance, specifically in forsaking your own sins and in forgiving others’; (6) humility, meekness, integrity through fasting, expressed foremost in a willingness to receive and remain true to God’s covenants and promises during succeeding trials of faith; and (7) faith in coming unto Christ for new birth, by prayer, by a broken heart, by boldly petitioning only from him the power revealed through his ordinances. As the Psalmist succinctly asked and answered the great questions of preparation, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? [Only] he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face” (Psalm 24:3-6).10
- “Endowment”. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 7 February 2009.↩
- Faust, James E. “Who Shall Ascend Into the Hill of the Lord”. August 2001. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 7 February 2009.↩
- Hinckley, Gordon B. Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997. 638.↩
- Nelson, Russell M. “Prepare for the Blessings of the Temple”. March 2002. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 7 February 2009. Ed. – See also Temple Endowment Understood by Revelation.↩
- See 2 April, 16 April, 17 May, 11 June, 16, 23 July, 13, 27 August, 9 October 1843; 21 January, 10 March, 7 April, 16 June 1844 sermons as recorded in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph – hereafter WJS, 168-73, 194-99, 202-4, 209-16, 232-36, 238-42, 243-47, 252-55, 317-19, 327-36, 340-62, 378-83.↩
- See the “Law of the Lord” account of the 1 May 1842 sermon in WJS, 119-20 (cf. Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:379).↩
- The temporary transporting of an individual into the presence of the Lord is a fundamental characteristic of the endowment (see D&C 76:5-10, 114-19). For examples, see, in chronological order, Ether 3:13-20; Genesis 28:10-22; 35:6-15; Isaiah 6:1 (1-8); Ezekiel 37:1; 1 Nephi 1:8 (8-14); 11:1 (chapters 11-14), 2 Nephi 4:25; Helaman 5:44-50; Matthew 17:1-9 (cf. 2 Peter 1:16-18); 3 Nephi 28:13-16, 36-40 (cf. D&C 84:33); Acts 7:55-56; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Revelation 1:10, 4:1-2; D&C 88:63-69, 45-75); 93:1.↩
- Parry, Donald W. ed. Temples of the Ancient World. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1980. 48-62. Direct quotations from Mr. Ehat’s article was reduced to these four or five paragraphs on 30 May 2010. The comments to this post up until this date reflect that change.↩