In the 130th section of the Doctrine and Covenants we are told in verses 20 and 21, "There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated, and when we obtain any blessings from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated."
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are many blessings given by the authority of the priesthood. In fact, most blessings are preceded with such a verbal declaration. In addition to blessings, the priesthood is also the governing authority in the church. With it come the keys, or the authority, to preside and rule within the kingdom of God here on earth. Without this authority the ordinances performed, the blessings given and the right to preside have no heavenly effect.
To illustrate this principle, an ordinary man cannot legally write speeding tickets, make arrests or investigate crimes. Should they do so, their actions would be invalid in a court of law and perhaps even illegal. But if that same ordinary man is properly authorized to wear a police uniform, then he can do all of these things because he has the authority to do so. In the same way, the priesthood gives the person holding it the right or the authority to perform certain actions that are recognized by God. Without the priesthood, the same actions are invalid and meaningless to God.
But where does this authority come from? We often say, "From God." In fact, the priesthood has often been described as the authority to act for and in the name of God. A priesthood holder, then, is an ambassador or a representative of God. In fact, this is how the apostle Paul described himself (Ephesians 6:20). However, we know that God Himself also holds the priesthood, but if the priesthood is defined as the authority to act for God then why does God need to have a priesthood? Who is He acting for or who is He representing?
To illustrate this question, we can look at the authority of a king. A king has the power to do anything he wants including making whatever law he desires or canceling any law he dislikes because his power is absolute and irrefutable. He has the right to grant land, confiscate property, levy taxes, pass judgment, send people to prison, set people free or declare the sentence of death on anyone he wants. If he chooses, he can delegate part of his authority to whomever he wishes by conferring the title of knighthood, prince or baron on anyone he chooses. He can also confer part of his authority to allow ordinary citizens of his kingdom to act in his stead. For example, the tax collector has the right to collect taxes from the people by virtue of the authority given to him by the king but without this authority, he would not have the right to collect taxes.
But where does the king get his authority? In other words, who gives the king the right to do what he does? Since he can do whatever he wants with no one having the right to tell him what he can and cannot do it's obvious that his authority comes from himself.
Using this illustration, we can liken the authority of the tax collector - which authority he has received from the king - to the priesthood. Whoever holds the priesthood performs their work by the authority of and in behalf of God. But, if God is the king and the priesthood is the authority to act for the king, then why does God, the king, need to have the priesthood?
In the church we also talk about the power of the priesthood, but the power of the priesthood is not the same as the authority of the priesthood. Since the power of the priesthood operates upon the principles of righteousness and God is all-righteous then it would seem that His he has the authority to hold the priesthood by virtue of His righteousness. However, if the power of the priesthood was synonymous with its authority, then every righteous person would automatically possess the priesthood. Since women can't hold the priesthood and there are many righteous women, it's obvious that the authority of the priesthood is different from its power. Therefore, no matter how righteous a person is, without the authority of the priesthood being conferred upon them, they would have no power to do even the simplest act which the lowliest priesthood holder can perform.
Then what is the authority of the priesthood, and why is it so necessary that even God Himself is required to have it?
In the 130th section of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord explained to us that, "There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated, and when we obtain any blessings from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (italics added).
This "law" that Jesus refers to is eternal, meaning it has existed forever. Furthermore, it is irrevocable - it can't be rescinded, cancelled, modified, or terminated. God neither created it nor can He disregard it. It is so powerful and binding that even God Himself is required to obey it.
This particular law that Jesus mentions in the scriptures just quoted pertains to blessings, however, there are other laws which are just as eternal and just as irrevocable that pertain to other matters. For example, Jesus told the Nephites, "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" (3 Nephi 27:19).
There is a law that says no unclean thing can enter into heaven. There is a law that says our sins have to be atoned for, either by ourselves or by proxy. There is a law that says that blood is required for this atonement. God didn't create these laws and as such He's obligated to obey them. If this was not so then God would certainly have devised a different plan for our salvation that didn't require Him to sacrifice His Son.
Since God is a king and sits on a throne then obviously He rules over a kingdom. Jesus explained, "All kingdoms have a law given; and there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom and there is no kingdom in which there is no space" (D&C 88:35,37).
If every kingdom has a law and there is no space in which there is no kingdom, then there is no place where there is not a law to govern it. There are eternal, irrevocable laws that govern everything. What makes our Father in heaven God is that He understands all of these laws and willingly obeys them.
And there is such a law which pertains to the priesthood. It is irrevocable and eternal and it is from this law that the priesthood derives its authority. Without holding the priesthood our Father in heaven would have no power to be God. It is only by the authority of the priesthood that He holds which gives Him the right or authority to reign.
Jesus further explained, "And again verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same. That which breaketh a law and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin cannot be sanctified by law" (D&C 88:34,35).
The priesthood is governed by law, and as such is made perfect and is sanctified, justified, and validated by law. Since God didn't create this law, nor can He dismiss it, and since He is a law abiding being, He Himself must obey this law. If He didn't, then He would be a law unto Himself and therefore would be living in sin and His actions and commandments could not be sanctified by the law. It is this law which establishes the need for the priesthood, as well as defines the scope of its authority and the rules for its operation.
The priesthood is based on an eternal and irrevocable law and provides the holder of it with the authority to preside, rule and reign, issue commands and to perform certain ordinances. In the church, the priesthood is necessary in order to preside because the priesthood is, among other things, a position of management. It permits the holder the right and authority to oversee and manage the affairs of the organization. Without it a person cannot legally preside, manage, oversee or direct various operations of the church.
Although its power is derived from the righteousness of the person holding it, the priesthood itself is not a function of righteousness. The Lord explained it this way: "The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, or our vain ambitions, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of men in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man" (D&C 121:36,37).
The priesthood, which is the authority or the right to preside and to perform certain deeds, can be conferred on unrighteous people. Although that is true, the power of that person's priesthood is dependant upon their righteousness. Thus, the authority of the priesthood and the power of the priesthood are two separate and distinct elements, but they are inseparably connected to one another. The priesthood gives a person the authority to control and manage the awesome powers of heaven, but without righteousness on the part of the holder, "the heavens withdraw themselves" making that person's priesthood useless and having no effect. On the other hand, without the priesthood, a person can be extremely righteous but has no authority to handle even the least heavenly power.
For a short time on earth we can hold the priesthood and exercise a portion of its power without being fully righteous, but this is not the case after the resurrection. Right now God can delegate a portion of His priesthood authority to us, but we don't enjoy its full authority until we have achieved exaltation. As such, we are only borrowing a part of God's authority while we live here in mortality.
The priesthood which we now possess derives its authority from God, our Father. We exercise our priesthood under His control and direction and not at our own discretion. To illustrate this principle, let's use the example of a young man learning how to drive a car. The first thing he must do is to obtain a driver's permit. This allows him the right or authority to learn how to operate a car, gain skills in using it, and develop his understanding of the laws of driving. Although this young person can actually drive a car on the road, and go anywhere he chooses, he cannot do so by himself. He must be accompanied by a licensed driver at all times. That is what the law states. Should this young man drive a car without being accompanied by a legally licensed driver he would be in violation of the law.
A licensed driver is a person who has demonstrated to an official state officer that they are capable of properly operating a car and will obey the state's highway laws. However, even though a young man has a permit to drive, he has no authority to drive a car. He can only do so by using the authority granted to him from a licensed driver. In other words, the young man is driving on borrowed authority. The law itself doesn't grant the young man this authority, but it does allow the licensed driver to share their own authority as long as the licensed driver oversees, directs and controls the actions of the young permit holder.
As priesthood holders, we are functioning only with permission from our Father in heaven. Thus, we only have a permit to hold the priesthood. We are in training to learn how it operates, how to properly use it, and to understand what laws we need to keep. God, on the other hand, is a licensed priesthood holder. Because He has demonstrated that He is capable of properly handling the priesthood, the eternal law governing it has granted Him the full authority to use it as He so desires.
But we don't have that privilege. Therefore, our heavenly Father must delegate some of His authority to us because the law will not give us that right until we can demonstrate our worthiness to possess it. Until then God must be in control as we use the priesthood under His watchful eye and at His discretion. That's why we say that the priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God. However, that is not God's definition. Because He God demonstrated that He is willing and able to keep the irrevocable laws of eternity it is the law which has granted Him the authority of the priesthood.