1. Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed the doctrine of priesthood ordinances for the dead.
Watch: Glad Tidings – The History of Baptisms for the Dead Joseph Smith’s struggle with his brother Alvin’s death led eventually to the introduction of baptisms for the dead. This new ordinance was embraced by saints in Nauvoo who did the first genealogical and family history research in Church history. (6:55)
‘On 15 August 1840, Joseph Smith preached the funeral sermon of Seymour Brunson, during which he declared for the first time the doctrine of baptism for the dead. It is not known precisely when the first proxy baptism or baptisms were performed; however, the first documented baptism for the dead was performed on 12 September 1840, when Jane Neyman requested that Harvey Olmstead baptize her in behalf of her deceased son Cyrus Livingston Neyman…. A short while later, upon learning the words Olmstead used in performing the baptism, Joseph Smith gave his approval of the ordinance. Later, instructions were given concerning proper procedures for performing and recording baptisms for the dead (see D&C 127-128), and it was clarified that “females should be baptised for females, and males for males” (Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 5:85). Doctrine and Covenants 124 (given five months after the first baptisms for the dead were performed) instructed that the practice of baptizing for the dead outside the Nauvoo Temple would be temporary [see vs. 29-34]. During the October 1841 general conference Joseph Smith announced, “There shall be no more baptisms for the dead, until the ordinance can be attended to in the Lord’s House…. For thus saith the Lord!” (History of the Church, 4:426). Allowance for the practice of performing proxy baptisms outside the temple lasted approximately thirteen and one-half months (15 August 1840-3 October 1841)….
On 8 November 1841, Brigham Young dedicated a temporary wooden baptismal font in the basement of the unfinished temple, and less than two weeks later, on 21 November, the first baptisms for the dead were performed in the temple by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and John Taylor.’ (Largey, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, p.838-839 (2012)
D&C 2:2 He shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers
‘In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made a certain agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan, conceived by him. We accepted it. Since the plan is intended for all men, we become parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but measurably, saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation.’ (John A Widtsoe, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, p. 189; see also History of the Church, 6:59-61)” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 1981, p. 8)
2. The Lord commanded the Saints to build a temple in Nauvoo.
D&C 124:28 What Is Meant by “The Fulness of the Priesthood”?
President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
“Joseph Smith said … , ‘If a man gets a fulness of the Priesthood of God, he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.’ [History of the Church, 5:424.]
“I hope we understand that. If we want to receive the fullness of the Priesthood of God, then we must receive the fullness of the ordinances of the house of the Lord and keep His commandments. …“Let me put this in a little different way. I do not care what office you hold in this Church, you may be an apostle, you may be patriarch, a high priest, or anything else, and you cannot receive the fulness of the Priesthood unless you go into the temple of the Lord and receive these ordinances of which the Prophet speaks. No man can get the fulness of the Priesthood outside of the temple of the Lord. There was a time when that could be done, for the Lord could give these things on the mountain tops—no doubt that is where Moses got it, that is no doubt where Elijah got it—and the Lord said that in the days of poverty, when there was no house prepared in which to receive these things, that they can be received on the mountain tops. But now you will have to go into the house of the Lord, and you cannot get the fulness of the priesthood unless you go there.” (Elijah the Prophet, pp. 45–46.) (Doctrine and Covenants Institute Manual)
D&C 124:30 This ordinance belongeth to my house
“Orson Pratt explained that a practical reason for centering the ordinance of baptism for the dead in the temple is that ‘the house of God is a house of order, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of order, and everything must be conducted with order, and with power and authority, so that when it is sealed on earth it is sealed in the heavens, that the records on earth and in heaven may agree-that the Priesthood on earth and in heaven may agree-that they may be one.'” (Hyrum L. Andrus, Principles of Perfection [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970], 486)
“Today, facing west, on the high bluff overlooking the city of Nauvoo, thence across the Mississippi, and over the plains of Iowa, there stands Joseph’s temple, a magnificent house of God. Here in the Salt Lake Valley, facing east to that beautiful temple in Nauvoo, stands Brigham’s temple, the Salt Lake Temple. They look toward one another as bookends between which there are volumes that speak of the suffering, the sorrow, the sacrifice, even the deaths of thousands who made the long journey from the Mississippi River to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.” —Gordon B. Hinckley
3. We should be enthusiastic and joyful in our efforts to perform baptisms for the dead.
Watch: Temples Bless the Living and the Dead D&C 124:38-41) Temples bless the living and the dead. (1:02)
Watch: We Cannot Be Saved Without Our Dead Elder Nelson teaches that we cannot be saved without our dead (D&C 128:17-18). (1:52)
Watch: Will I Do My Part?
The key to freeing our ancestors from spirit prison is in our hands. We have the opportunity to put that key into action and bring the blessings of the Gospel to our families. (2:43)
D&C 128:14-18 Why Is Baptism for the Dead Such an Important Gospel Principle?
;In these verses, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the following principles:
- The salvation of our dead ancestors is “essential to our salvation.” Our lives are closely tied to our ancestors’ lives, for we cannot become perfect without them nor they without us (D&C 128:15).
- Baptism for the dead is the “most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel” (v. 17). This doctrine shows the love and mercy of an all-wise Father in Heaven. Baptism for the dead and other vicarious work makes it possible for all our Father’s children to receive the same blessings, and be judged on the same terms, whether or not they had a chance to accept the gospel in mortality. President Rudger Clawson said: “Oh, the beauty of the justice and mercy of God, who is no respecter of persons! And let it be remembered that what it takes to save one who is living; it takes just that much to save one who is dead.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1931, p. 79.)
- Baptism for the dead helps to prevent the earth from being smitten with a curse. As President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “If Elijah had not come, we are led to believe that all the work of past ages would have been of little avail, for the Lord said the whole earth, under such conditions, would be utterly wasted at his coming. Therefore his mission was of vast importance to the world. It is not the question of baptism for the dead alone, but also the sealing of parents and children to parents, so that there should be a ‘whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories,’ from the beginning down to the end of time.
“If this sealing power were not on the earth, then confusion would reign and disorder would take the place of order in that day when the Lord shall come, and, of course, this could not be, for all things are governed and controlled by perfect law in the kingdom of God. “Why would the earth be wasted? Simply because if there is not a welding link between the fathers and the children—which is the work for the dead—then we will all stand rejected; the whole work of God will fail and be utterly wasted. Such a condition, of course, shall not be.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:121–22.) (Doctrine and Covenants Institute Manual)
D&C 128:19-23 A Voice of Gladness
“In September 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith was hiding in the house of Edward Hunter in Nauvoo… Yet it was in the cramped quarters of Edward Hunter’s home that Joseph penned the most majestic hymn of praise of the Restoration.
“Perhaps you have been to a symphony and listened to a piece of music that begins with a single, clear note played by a violin or a flute. The single instrument holds center stage for a time and then slowly, sometimes almost imperceptibly, is joined by other instruments. As the piece continues, the music swells as more and more instruments join in until all are playing and the whole hall is filled with the beauty of sound.
“Or perhaps you have listened to a great choir perform. Often a single soloist with a clear voice will begin to sing. As with the symphony, that single voice sounds in our ears without distraction. Then, slowly, other voices begin singing until, in a wonderful unity of sound, all are singing as one.
“This is the structure of Joseph Smith’s hymn of praise, only it is a hymn not of voice in song or note of violin but in words played upon the soul and recorded in the scriptures. Joseph’s hymn, too, begins with a single voice, ‘a voice of gladness.’ Listen to the words and see if you can hear the other voices join in to sing one unified song of praise for the blessings of the Restoration: (quotes D&C 128:19-23.)
“What could have possibly been on Joseph Smith’s mind to bring forth from his pen such a beautiful summation of the Restoration? The central theme of D&C 128:1 is the salvation of the dead through the ordinances of the House of the Lord. Indeed, the verse immediately preceding Joseph’s song of gladness speaks of a ‘welding link . . . between the fathers and the children,’ a link that would be ‘whole and complete and perfect.’ (D&C 128:18.)
“Earlier in the letter, and serving as introduction to his song of praise, Joseph Smith told the Saints, ‘[The work of the temple] seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest.’ He assured them, ‘These are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation.’ (D&C 128:1, 15.) Joseph understood that the culmination of the Restoration, the point to which all the voices were leading, was the temple and the redeeming work for both living and dead that would take place within its walls. Without that work, the song of the Restoration would have ‘become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.’ (1 Corinthians 13:1.) Or, as Malachi wrote, ‘The whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.’ (D&C 2:3.) Temple work was the soul of Joseph Smith’s song as it is the soul of the Restoration.” (S. Michael Wilcox, House of Glory: Finding Personal Meaning in the Temple [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 5-7)