The concept of preparation prevails in many of our endeavors. A person is not admitted to a university, for example, until they have worked to achieve sufficient academic standing and met all other criteria for eligibility. Similarly, anyone may enter the temple who is willing to prepare well for that privilege. Priesthood leaders have the authority and responsibility to represent the Lord in determining our eligibility to attend the temple as we meet with them.
Preparation for temple attendance includes physical, intellectual and spiritual elements. Physical preparation includes an outward appearance that is modest and clean. Wearing our "Sunday best" as we enter the temple reflects our respect for the Lord and the importance of the learning, revelation and covenants that occur in the Lord's house.
Intellectual preparation might include a study of the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament and topics relevant to temple worship or principles we are seeking to learn. The Old Testament underscores the antiquity of temple worship and the enduring nature of its ordinances. Symbols were used anciently to teach profound truths and this method of instruction continues to be used in temples today.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must prepare spiritually to attend the temple. In Psalm 24, King David asked, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?" He answered simply, "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart... He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation" (Psalm 24:3-5).
When Christ came to the temple in ancient America, he taught:
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day (3 Nephi 27:19-20).
Because of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, we can be washed and sanctified as we act in faith; repent of our sin; covenant through baptism to take His name upon ourselves, keep his commandments, and always remember him; and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. We prepare for temple worship as we take appropriate steps to have clean hands and a pure heart.
The Lord was teaching the early members of the Church how to prepare for temple worship before a temple was even constructed. In December 1832 or January 1833, the Lord commanded the Saints to, "Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God" (D&C 88:119).
One verse prior, the Lord instructs, "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and by faith" (v. 118). As was the case for most farmers of that time, few of the early leaders of the Church had more than a third grade education. Before they, or the rest of the church members, would be ready for the blessings of the temple, they would need to further their education.
Obediently, these faithful men began gathering each morning after breakfast in an upstairs room of the Whitney Store in Kirtland, Ohio. There they were instructed in topics of religion, languages, history, geology, politics, and anything else that could be taught.
As was common in those days, many of the men in the newly established school would pull out their pipes once breakfast had settled in their stomachs. Often, the room would get too smoke-filled to see the instructor. Then, when finished with their pipes, many would use chewing tobacco in one side or both and spit with varying degrees of accuracy into spittoons located on the floor.
The disgusting mess of spit and tobacco left behind after one of these sessions was very difficult to clean and even stained the floor. After just a few weeks, Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, to whom the chore of cleaning the floor often fell, became very concerned by the lack of cleanliness associated with using tobacco products. Joseph inquired of the Lord and received a revelation now commonly known as the Word of Wisdom.
The Word of Wisdom lays out the Lord's law of health for our time. It starts with this preamble: "Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of the evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation" (D&C 89:4).
The Lord then lays out the law. Alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea are "not for the body," but "all grain is good for the food of man" and fruits and vegetables are to be eaten in their proper seasons. Meat is also ordained for our use, the Lord instructs, but it is to be eaten sparingly and with thanksgiving (D&C 89:5-17).
If we follow this law, the Lord promises that we "shall receive health in [our] navel and marrow to [our] bones; And shall find great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them [that obey] a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them" (D&C 89:18-21).
In the context of history, the Word of Wisdom was clearly ahead of its time. There was no scientific research on tobacco products in the 1830s and alcohol was considered safer than water to drink. Temperance societies were just beginning to convince the public to replace their morning whiskey with a cup of coffee, which had been a rare luxury item until those same societies successfully lobbied for the removal of the import tariff on coffee beans. Manufacturers, meanwhile, were still discovering the profit potential of addictive substances, drugs and hormones to increase animal production, and genetic modification techniques.
At the same time, the Word of Wisdom was not unprecedented. Daniel, in the Old Testament, "purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank" (Daniel 1:8). Instead, he made a deal with the eunuchs: they would let him and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, eat only grains and drink only water for ten days, then they could compare their health with the other children.
Daniel clearly believed that his food choices were a matter of faith ordained by the Lord. To deviate from those choices wasn't just a physical setback, but a defiling of his soul. After ten days, the eunuchs saw his healthy countenance and took the meats and wine away from the other children. But another consequence of their behavior is sometimes overlooked. The scriptures explain, "As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams" (Daniel 1:17).
The particulars of the Lord's law of health have varied slightly in different periods of world history, but whenever there have been prophets on the earth the Lord has given commandments for the care of our bodies. These commandments help us to be ready to serve others and keep other commandments, to be sure, but also prepare us for the blessings of "hidden" knowledge and wisdom received by Daniel and promised to us through the Word of Wisdom.
It is this "hidden", or sacred, knowledge that comes through revelation from God to each of us in His temple. Through his spirit, He can teach us the answers to some of our most complex questions, give us the insight to seek a better approach or nudge us toward actions that will bless our lives. To hear his voice and receive the strength we need to obey His word, we must be prepared to receive Him.
So we see again that in every gospel dispensation, including our own, the Lord has prepared his people for the blessings of the temple. It is there that we can be sealed together as families for time and all eternity. It is there, in His house, that our Heavenly Father teaches us, His children, many of the most sacred doctrines of His gospel. Every other gospel principle leads us to the temple because the temple leads us to Him; but our eligibility to participate depends on willingness to come to him through our physical, intellectual and spiritual preparation.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart... He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation (Psalm 24:3-5).