In the person of Nephi the son of Helaman we have a singular account in the scriptures of how a person attains the “sealing power,” also called the “spirit and power of Elijah” and the “fulness of the Priesthood” (TPJS, 335–40). Other accounts exist in the scriptures of individuals who attained this power, such as Enoch, Moses, Elijah, John the Revelator, and the Three Nephites; but none is so explicit as to their background. How did they get to the point where the Lord endowed them with this extraordinary power? What were the struggles they endured, the tests of their faith they had to pass, that qualified them for this highest of all callings?
We learn from a negative example how King David failed to attain it, though he was close to attaining it. The Prophet Joseph Smith relates that because David put Uriah on the forefront of battle to have him killed so that he could take his wife Bathsheba, David “never did obtain the spirit and power of Elijah and the fulness of the Priesthood; and the Priesthood that he received, and the throne and kingdom of David is to be taken from him and given to another by the name of David in the last days, raised up out of his lineage” (TPJS, 330).
A previous revelation Joseph Smith had received affirms that as a consequence of Uriah’s murder, David “hath fallen from his exaltation, and received his portion; and he shall not inherit them [his wives] out of the world, for I gave them unto another, saith the Lord” (D&C 132:39).
Nephi the son of Helaman and King David provide clear examples of respectively passing and failing an ultimate mortal test, each individualized for that person. Nephi first filled the judgment seat “with justice and equity” (Helaman 3:37) and then magnified his ministry in the priesthood (Helaman 4:14; 5:4, 14–49; 6:6; 7:1–2). Up to the point of his transgression, David too had proven valiant in serving the Lord. If David “hath fallen from his exaltation” (D&C 132:39; emphasis added), that means he had already attained his exaltation; or, in other words, he had previously made sure his calling and election.
The only way a person can afterwards fall from his exaltation is by sinning against the Holy Ghost: “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant” (D&C 132:27).
Whereas David did not assent to Messiah’s death but received forgiveness after sorely repenting (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalms 51:1–19), Judas did assent to it by betraying Jesus (Matthew 26:20–26), thus becoming a “son of perdition” (John 17:12; 3 Nephi 27:32; 29:7). Because Judas’ betrayal happened before the Holy Ghost had fallen on the apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4), the idea of sinning against the Holy Ghost applies in a specific not in a general sense (see Matthew 12:31; Alma 39:5–6).
The test of faith David failed that would very likely have assured him the “spirit and power of Elijah” was evidently to not take Bathsheba even though she was destined to be the wife through whose lineage the Messiah would be born. Although David forfeited his exaltation, he ended up—by sorely repenting—not forfeiting his salvation (see TPJS, 339).
Nephi the son of Helaman, on the other hand, after many years of temporal and spiritual service among both Nephites and Lamanites, stood up boldly against the conspiratorial Gadianton band by confronting them with their crimes (Helaman 7:12–29; 8:10–28; 9:21–36). After becoming severely discouraged, “being much cast down” because of their wickedness, the Lord said to him, “Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
“And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people” (Helaman 10:3–7).
From then on, Nephi had the power of translated beings, including teleportation, as did Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:12). When they tried to capture him, “the power of God was with him, and they could not take him to cast him into prison, for he was taken by the Spirit and conveyed away out of the midst of them” (Helaman 10:16). Like Elijah, he called down a famine upon the land until the people had repented, at which point he petitioned for rain (Helaman 11:3–18; cf. 1 Kings 17:1, 7; 18:41–45). The Lord gave Nephi power over the elements: “If ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou cast down and become smooth, it shall be done” (Helaman 10:9). The power to seal on earth and in heaven, which Elijah held, was similarly bestowed upon Peter and the Prophet Joseph Smith (Matthew 16:18–19; D&C 128:8–18; 132:46; TPJS, 337–38)
Moses exercised power over the elements when he divided the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21). Elijah did so when he divided the waters of the River Jordan (2 Kings 2:8) and again when fire came out of heaven and consumed his sacrifice (1 Kings 18:38). In their day, the Canaanites attributed such powers to their god Baal.
In Nephi the son of Helaman’s case, his people didn’t question that a person could be a god or could become one. The scriptures said so (see Psalms 82:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 8:5). They simply speculated whether he was a god (Helaman 9:41). Latter-day revelations teach, as Jesus did during his earthly ministry, that one can indeed become a god by keeping God’s word (John 10:34–35; D&C 121:28–29, 32; 132:37). In that respect, Nephi the son of Helaman serves as an exemplar par excellence.