Why President McKay was “Disappointed in the Temple”

Mar 10, 2014
2 min read

President David O. McKay once said that he was “disappointed” when he first went through the Temple and he explains why. I think this could be helpful to any who are preparing for the temple, or who are still trying to understand what it is all about.

Do you remember when you first went through the House of the Lord? I do. And I went out disappointed. Just a young man, out of college, anticipating great things when I went to the Temple. I was disappointed and grieved, and I have met hundreds of young men and young women since who had that experience. I have now found out why. There are two things in every Temple: mechanics, to set forth certain ideals, and symbolism, what those mechanics symbolize. I saw only the mechanics when I first went through the Temple. I did not see the spiritual. I did not see the symbolism of spirituality… I was blind to the great lesson of purity behind the mechanics. I did not hear the message of the of the Lord… How many of us young men saw that? We thought we were big enough and with intelligence sufficient to criticize the mechanics of it and we were blind to the symbolism, the message of the spirit. And then that great ordinance, the endowment. The whole thing is simple in the mechanical part of it, but sublime and eternal in its significance. (From Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005): 277)

I appreciated these words from President McKay. I think we all spend most of our first trips to the temple focusing on the mechanics if we were not adequately instructed on learning through symbolic teaching. While the initiatory has many parallels to baptism and confirmation, there’s nothing comparable to the endowment anywhere else in Latter-day Saint worship.

I think the closest you can get are the accounts recorded in scripture where a prophet is taken up into the presence of the Lord, guided by angels and shown the creation of the world and given sacred knowledge. At one level, I believe the endowment is a symbolic “ascension vision”, similar to the experiences of Abraham, Moses, Enoch, Nephi, and the Brother of Jared to name a few.

Here’s another great quote from President McKay:

“Brothers and sisters, I was disappointed in the temple. And so were you. […] There are few, even temple workers, who comprehend the full meaning and power of the temple endowment. Seen for what it is, it is the step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence. […] If our young people could but glimpse it, it would be the most powerful spiritual motivation of their lives!” (Andrew Ehat, ” ‘Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord?’ Sesquicentennial Reflections of a Sacred Day: 4 May 1842,” Temples of the Ancient World, edited by Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1994), 58-59.)

President Spencer W. Kimball had this to say about the ordinances of the Temple:

“If you understood the ordinances of the House of the Lord, you would crawl on your hands and feet for thousands of miles in order to receive them!” (Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, p. 58-59)


  1. Richard J. Nobbe III

    Lately I’ve been fascinated with the scripture, “There you shall be endowed with power from on high.” (D&C 38:32, D&C 43:16, Luke 24:49). They key word I have been fascinated with is “power.”

    On lds.org, under ‘study helps,’ the Endowment is defined as “a gift of power from God. Worthy members of the Church can receive a gift of power through ordinances in the temple that gives them the instruction and covenants of the Holy Priesthood that they need in order to attain exaltation.”

    The prophet Joseph Smith uses the word “instrumentality.” He said, “You need an endowment, brethren, in order that you may be prepared and able to overcome all things; and those that reject your testimony will be damned. The sick will be healed, the lame made to walk, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see, through your instrumentality.”

    In my studies, I have found that during his life, Joseph Smith used the word “Endow” and “Endue” interchangeably. The word “Endow” comes from the Greek “Endue” and means “to cloth.” In fact, in many versions of the Bible, Luke 24:49 says, “until ye be ‘clothed’ with power from on high,” instead of “until ye be ‘endued’ with power from on high,” (NIV, ESV, NASB).

    So the Endowment is symbolic for being clothed with power from on high. I’d love to hear any insight that anyone has on how we get “power” from the endowment. I certainly have my own ideas…There is power in faith, for instance. But how do we specifically receive power from the House of the Lord? I think a lot of it has to do with the covenants that we promise to make. The greater the covenants we make & the greater the law we agree to abide by, the more the Lord trusts us, the more the Lord will bless us, and the more revelation we receive. Obedience is the beginning, and then perfect consecration is the key to gaining the highest knowledge and being able to access the powers of heaven.

    • There are many levels at which I believe we can receive “power”. On the most basic level, what does the endowment symbolize? We receive power or ability to do in reality what we have participated in symbolically.

      The Temple is only the House of the Lord in one aspect, what is the real “House of the Lord?”

      “for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” – 2 Cor. 6:16

      My institute teacher’s mother once said “the temple is a great mold, the more you pour yourself into it, the more you become like it.” What is God trying to mold us into? Indeed it is a model, it isn’t the destination, it is a taste of what the real thing is like so it will be familiar to us as we grow nearer.

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        I really appreciate that imagery and analogy of the mold. That’s fantastic stuff – I’ll remember that one. : )

  2. D. L. Partride

    I’ve been trying to find another quote I remember hearing from an apostle about being disappointed on attending the temple for the first time. It was a comfort to me, but I can’t find it. I’m grateful for this reference to Pres. McKay’s experience. Can anyone help me with any quotes from other apostles?

    • I’m not immediately aware of any other quotes specifically along these lines, but I think there are many other answers that explain why many people find the temple experience difficult. If you are interested in talking about it with me I can email you a link to when I would have availability to discuss some ideas with you.

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