Three Grand Orders of Priesthood
There is a Sermon of Joseph Smith where he clearly outlines what the levels of Priesthood are, however many people are confused on the subject and try to re-arrange the order that Joseph Smith laid out. Joseph Smith says that Patriarchal Priesthood is the highest Priesthood yet experienced in the Church. Many people therefore assume it must be over the Melchizedek as they feel that Melchizedek Priesthood had already been "experienced". Melchizedek Priesthood has never been experienced in this dispensation, which is what causes the confusion. Melchizedek Priesthood is over Patriarchal Priesthood just as Joseph Smith explains. Here are a few quotes of the sermon from different individuals, and my comments regarding them.
"There are 3 grand principles or orders of Priesthood portrayed in this chapter
1st Levitical which was never able to administer a Blessing but only to bind heavy burdens which neither they nor their father able to bear.
2 Abrahams Patriarchal power which is the greatest yet experienced in this church
3d That of Melchisedec who had still greater power even power of an endless life of which was our Lord Jesus Christ which also Abraham obtained by the offering of his son Isaac which was not the power of a Prophet nor apostle nor Patriarch only but of King & Priest to God to open the windows of Heaven and pour out the peace & Law of endless Life to man & No man can attain to the Joint heirship with Jesus Christ with out being administered to by one having the same power & Authority of Melchisedec Joseph also said that the Holy Ghost is now in a state of Probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has."
Franklin D. Richards' Version (Words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 245; spelling is original)
Notice; Melchizedek Priesthood has greater power, even than that of Abraham's Patriarchal authority; until he obtained it by offering his son Isaac. Levitical authority has the right to carry out the law and therefore cursings. It is an appendage of the Aaronic Priesthood which pertains to salvation from the Law. Patriarchal Authority is only an appendage of Melchizedek authority having the power to Seal up unto Eternal Life, and do Temple ordinances. Melchizedek authority however is over them all, and governs all; as all other Priesthoods are just an appendage of it. This is made clear in further quotes of the sermon.
"Hebrewes 7 chap. Paul is here treating of three different preisthoods, namely the preisthood of Aron, Abraham, and Melchizedeck, Abraham's preisthood was of greater power than Levi's and Melchizedeck's was of greater power than that of Abraham. The preisthood of Levi consisted of cursings and blessings carnal commandments and not of blessings and if the preisthood of this generation has no more power than that of Levi or Aron or of a bishhoprick it administers no blessings but cursings for it was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I ask was there any sealing power attending this preisthood. Oh no that would admit a man into the presence of God. Oh no, but Abraham's was a more exalted power or preisthood he could talk and walk with God and yet consider how great this man was when even this patriarch Abraham gave a tenth part of all his spoils and then received a blessing under the hands of Melchesideck even the last law or a fulness of the law or preisthood which constituted him a king and preist after the order of Melchesideck or an endless life Now if Abraham had been like the sectarian world and would not have received any more revelation, what would have been the consequence it would have damned him. Book of Covenants. The levitical preisthood was an appendage to the Melchesideck preisthood or the whole law of God when in full face or power in all its parts and bearings on the earth. It is understood by many by reading this chapter that Melchesedeck was king of some country or nation on the earth, but it was not so, In the original it reads king of Shaloam which signifies king of peace or righteousness and not of any country or nation.
Malachi says that the sons of Levi shall in the last days offer an offering in rightousness.
Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther, did Abraham when called upon to offer his son, did the Saviour, no, view him fulfiling all rightousness again on the banks of jordon, also on the Mount transfigured before Peter and John there receiving the fulness of preisthood or the law of God, setting up no stake but coming right up to the mark in all things here him after he returned from the Mount, did ever language of such magnitude fall from the lips of any man, hearken him. All power is given is given unto me both in heaven and the earth. Offering's sacrifice's and carnal commandments, was added in consequence of transgression and they that did them should live by them. View him the Son of God at saying it behoveth me to fulfil all rightousness also in a garden saying if it be possible let this cup pass from me nevertheless thy will be done. What was the design of the Almighty in making man, it was to exalt him to be as God, the scripture says yet are Gods and it cannot be broken, heirs of God and joint heirs I with Jesus Christ equal with him possesing all power &c. The mystery power and glory of the preisthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state."
James Burgess' Version (The Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 245-246; spelling is original)
This section verifies everything I claimed in the previous paragraph. There is Levitical and Aaronic, then Patriarchal, and then Melchizedek which is the highest Priesthood. Men are ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, but they don't "experience" it until a time when they sacrifice all things. Aaronic does not have the Sealing Power, but Patriarchal does, and yet Melchizedek Priesthood is greater and governs all other appendages. Abraham gave his Tithing to Melchizedek. Abraham did not "experience" the Melchizedek Priesthood until he obtained it through the righteousness of following God at all costs. Following God, if you know it is God, is the only logical course of action, no matter the demand. We have to prove we will do it however.
This settles once and for all that the Patriarchal Priesthood is not over the Melchizedek Priesthood, neither is Patriarchal Priesthood the "fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood". You can have the Aaronic Priesthood conferred upon you, and you can have Patriarchal Priesthood like Abraham, but both are under the Melchizedek Priesthood. Melchizedek Priesthood governs both, and is only fully "experienced" when you prove yourself.
Finally there is a version in the History of the Church, which I cannot full verify the accuracy of; but it makes a few interesting points, and so here it is.
"Respecting the Melchizedek Priesthood, the sectarians never professed to have it; consequently they never could save any one, and would all be damned together. There was an Episcopal priest who said he had the priesthood of Aaron, but had not the priesthood of Melchizedek and I bear testimony that I never have found the man who claimed the Priesthood of Melchizedek. The power of the Melchizedek priesthood is to have the power of "endless lives;" for the everlasting covenant cannot be broken.
The law was given under Aaron for the purpose of pouring out judgments and destructions.
The sectarian world are going to hell by hundreds, by thousands and by millions.
There are three grand orders of priesthood referred to here. 1st. The King of Shiloam. (Salem) had power and authority over that of Abraham, holding the key and the power of endless life. Angels desire to look into it, but they have set up too many stakes. God cursed the children of Israel because they would not receive the last law from Moses.
The sacrifice required of Abraham in the offering up of Isaac, shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life; he must sacrifice all things. When God offers a blessing or knowledge to a man, and he refuses to receive it, he will be damned. The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law.
What was the power of Melchizedek? 'Twas not the Priesthood of Aaron which administers in outward ordinances, and the offering of sacrifices. Those holding the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam.
Abraham says to Melchizedek, I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood.
Salvation could not come to the world without the mediation of Jesus Christ.
How shall God come to the rescue of this generation? He will send Elijah the prophet. The law revealed to Moses in Horeb never was revealed to the children of Israel as a nation.
Elijah shall reveal the covenants to seal the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.
The anointing and sealing is to be called, elected and made sure.
"Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually." The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.
The 2nd Priesthood is Patriarchal authority. Go to and finish the temple, and God will fill it with power, and you will then receive more knowledge concerning this priesthood.
The 3rd is what is called the Levitical Priesthood, consisting of priests to administer in outward ordinance, made without an oath; but the Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant.
The Holy Ghost is God's messenger to administer in all those priesthoods.
Jesus Christ is the heir of this Kingdom--the only begotten of the Father according to the flesh, and holds the keys over all this world.
Men have to suffer that they may come upon Mount Zion and be exalted above the heavens.
I know a man that has been caught up to the third heavens, and can say, with Paul, that we have seen and heard things that are not lawful to utter."
History of the Church, (5:554-556) Version
It says in D&C 124:124 this: "First, I give unto you Hyrum Smith to be a patriarch unto you, to hold the sealing blessings of my church, even the Holy Spirit of promise, whereby ye are sealed up unto the day of redemption, that ye may not fall notwithstanding the hour of temptation that may come upon you."
So the Patriarchal Priesthood Seals blessings upon the saints, while Levitical only curses; but Melchizedek is over them all, and has authority over these appendages when it is utilized correctly.
Joseph Smith also mentions the work of Elijah turning the hearts of the fathers (Patriarchs) to the children and the hearts of the children to the Patriarchs. I submit that this will be accomplished when we live the Patriarchal law outlined in Genesis as well as in the marriage laws of the Torah. Remember this applies to the Sealing power, and we learn in D&C 132:13-19.