Authentic Joseph Smith (No. 6)
Part of the Joseph Smith, Jr. Series
All blue quotes by Joseph Smith (unless otherwise noted).
From Wilford Woodruff’s diary (March 1844)
The Britannica Encyclopedia defines Elias and Elijah as the same person, and this is the general, secular understanding among religious scholars today:
“Elijah, also spelled Elias or Elia, Hebrew Eliyyahu, (flourished 9th century BCE), Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible.”
However, Joseph taught that there are two different persons with different missions. He calls one Elias, and the other one is called Elijah.
Joseph’s Sermon of Clarity
This is a longer quote – but a masterful lesson I dearly appreciate by Joseph Smith – that clears up the roles of Elias and Elijah and also helps us know the Bible refers to two persons with different roles. You can also find this same teaching referred to in JST Matthew 17:10-14.
Joseph gave this sermon to the Saints at the Nauvoo Temple before it was finished. The Saints are in the beginning stages of their understanding of the work for the dead and the temple’s saving ordinances.
I’ve added some punctuation and some formatting to help make the quote more readable but kept the misspellings. Please note: Wilford Woodruff sometimes uses the “&” symbol like a period to separate two ideas.
Spirit of Elias
Their is a differance between the spirit & office of Elias & Elijah. it is the spirit of Elias I wish first to speak of. And in order to come at the subject I will bring some of the testimony from the scripture & give my own, in the first place suffice it to say I went into the woods to inquire of the Lord by prayer his will concerning me—& I saw an angel & he laid his hands upon my head & ordained me to be a priest after the order of Aaron€ & to hold the keys of this priesthood which office was to preach repentance & Baptism for the remission of sins & also to baptise
but was informed that this office did not extend to the laying on of hands for the giving of the Holy Ghost that that office was a greater work & was to be given after wards but that my ordination was a preparetory work or a going before which was the spirit of Elias.
John the Baptist
for the spirit of Elias was a going before to prepare the way for the greater, which was the Case with John the Baptist. he Came balling through the wilderness prepare ye the the way of the Lord & make his paths strait. & they were informed if they Could receive it it was the spirit of Elias. & John was vary particular to tell the people He was not that light but was sent to bear witness of that light, He told the people that his mission was to preach repentance & baptize with water. but it was he that should Come after him that should baptise with fire & the Holy Ghost.
if he had been an imposture he might have gone to work beyound, his bounds & undertook to have performed ordinances that did not belong to that office & calling under the spirit of Elias. The spirit of Elias is to prepare the way for a greater revelation of God which is [also known as] the priesthood of Elias or the Priesthood that Aaron was ordained unto.
Prepare for a greater work
And when God sends a man into the world to prepare for a greater work holds the keys of the power of Elias it was called the doctrin of Elias even from the early ages of the world. John,s mission was limited to preaching & Baptizing but what he done was legal. & when Jesus Christ Came to any of John,s deciples He baptized them with fire & the Holy Ghost. we find the Apostles endowed with greater power than John. their office was more under the spirit & power of Elijah than Elias.
In the Case of Philip when he went down to Samaria was under the spirit of Elias he baptised both men & women, when Peter & John herd of it they went down & lade hands on them & they received the Holy Ghost this shows the distinction between the two powers.
Difference of Power in the Priesthoods
What I want to impress upon your minds is, the difference of power in the different parts of the Priesthood, so that when any man comes among you saying I have the spirit of Elias you can know whether he be true or fals, for any man that comes having the spirit & power of Elias he will not transend his bounds, John did not transend his bound but faithfully performed that part belonging to his office, and evry portion of the great building should be prepared right & assigned to its proper place. & it is necessary to know who holds the keys of power & who dont, or we may be likely to be decieved, That person who holds the keys of Elias hath a preparitory work, But if I spend much more time in conversing about the spirit of Elias I shall not have time to do justice to the spirit & power of Elijah
Spirit and Calling of Elijah
Now for Elijah, the spirit power & calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations ordinances, oricles powers & endowments of the fulness of the Melchezedek Priesthood. & of the Kingdom of God on the Earth & to receive, obtain & perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God even unto the sealing of the hearts of the hearts fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fathers even those who are in heaven. Malachi says I will send Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come & He shall turn the hearts of the Fathers to the Children and the hearts of the Children to the Fathers lest I come & smite the earth with a Curse,
Seal the Children to the Fathers
Now what I am after is the knowledge of God & I take my own Course to obtain it, what are we to understand by this in the last days. in the days of Noah God destroyed the world by a flood & has promised to destroy it by fire in the last days. but before it took place Elijah should first come & turn the hearts of the Fathers to the Children &c now comes the point what is this office & work of Elijah, it is one of the greatest & most important subjects that God has revealed, He should send Elijah to seal the children to the fathers & fathers to the Children
Our Dead Need the Sealings Too
Elijah what would you do if you was here – would you confine your work to the living alone. No I would
confine refer you to the scriptures whare the subject is manifest. i.e, without us they could not be made perfect, nor we without them, the fathers without the children nor the children without the fathers. I wish you to understand this subject for it is important & if you will receive it this is the spirit of Elijah that we redeam our dead & connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven & seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection. & here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those which dwell in heaven. this is the power of Elijah & the keys of the Kingdom of Jehovah.
Calling and Election Made Sure
Let us suppose a case; suppose the great God who dwells in heaven should reveal himself to Father Cutler here by the opening heavens – and tell him I offer up a decree that whatsoever you seal on earth with your decree I will seal it in heaven. you have power then, can it be taken of[f?] No, Then what you seal on earth by the Keys of Elijah is sealed in heaven. & this is the power of Elijah, & this is the difference between the spirit & power of Elias and Elijah. for while the spirit of Elias is a forerunner the power of Elijah is sufficient to make our calling & Election sure.
This sermon taught me a lot about priesthoods and powers. In short, the Spirit of Elias is a preparatory work that comes before a greater work. It is also called the Doctrine of Elias or the Aaronic priesthood. That is what John the Baptist held. The Spirit of Elijah is the culmination, the capstone, or the greater work and it is also known as the Doctrine of Elijah or the Melchizadek priesthood. This is what Peter and Paul held.
Here is the verse from JST Matthew 17:10-14
Jesus teaches of two Eliases—one to prepare and another to restore.
10 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things, as the prophets have written.
11 And again I say unto you that Elias has come already, concerning whom it is written, Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and they knew him not, and have done unto him, whatsoever they listed.
12 Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
13 But I say unto you, Who is Elias? Behold, this is Elias, whom I send to prepare the way before me.
14 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist, and also of another who should come and restore all things, as it is written by the prophets.
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The Joseph Smith Series comes from, in part, a book called “The Words of Joseph Smith.”
Note: usually, the book costs a small fortune ($150-$250) because it is out of print. But I found it for free at the BYU Religious Studies Center. (Thank you, BYU)
(P.S. I receive no compensation for any recommendations – I like sharing!)