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Gospel Doctrine Lesson 30: How We Taught This Topic in the Past

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 26, 2009

Lesson 30: “The Prisoners Shall Go Free”

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1936: Gospel Restoration Themes: A Handbook for Missionaries and Other Students of the Gospel

Lesson 8: Salvation for the Dead

From the Series of Tracts Known as “Rays of Living Light” by Charles W. Penrose

Born of Water and of the Spirit

“Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John iii:5.) this sweeping declaration was made by Jesus Christ to Nicodemus, when that prominent Israelite visited the Savior at night. The apostle Peter said concerning Jesus Christ: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts iv:12.) The words of Peter were spoken when he was “filled with the Holy Ghost.” The words of Jesus came from him as the son of God. They vitally affect the whole human family. they being true, not a soul can enter into the kingdom of God unless he or she is a true believer in Jesus Christ, and has been born of the water and of the Spirit. Even Christ himself had to comply with this law in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” he was born of the water in his burial by baptism in Jordan, and his coming forth from the womb of waters: He was then born of the Spirit by the baptism of the Holy ghost. here is the example for all mankind, who are required to “follow in his steps.” this is the “straight and narrow way.”

The Many Who Die Without Hearing the Gospel

The question which naturally arises in the thoughtful mind on hearing these declarations is, “how could people believe in Jesus Christ when his name was not preached to them?” And coupled with that comes the query: “What has become of the many millions of earth’s inhabitants who died without the opportunity of being born of water and of the Spirit?” The heathen nations, worshiping false gods, knew nothing of Jesus as the Savior of mankind. Even the chosen people, Israel, who were under the Mosaic law, did not walk in the way of salvation. Since the days when the apostles and other authorized servants of Christ administered the ordinances of the gospel, and during the times when “darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people,” down to the present age when it is claimed by the latter-day Saints that the church of Christ, the Holy Apostleship, and the fullness of the gospel have been restored, myriads of good people have passed away without receiving that new birth in the manner that Christ declared to be essential. Have they all perished? Is it possible that they are doomed to destruction? Will the Eternal Father reject all these His children because they did not obey a law which was not made known to them?

Popular Errors Regarding God’s Justice

Justice, mercy, reason, and common sense revolt at such an idea. As Paul has it: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (rom. x:14.) Yet the word of God must stand. It endureth forever, and he is no respecter of persons. And he is to “judge the secrets of all men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” It is for that reason that the Gospel was to be preached to ‘every creature.” According to the notion prevalent in modern Christendom, there will be many millions of people shut out of the kingdom of heaven, because they did not believe in a Savior about whom they knew nothing. And it is taught that there is no possible chance of salvation for those who died without faith in Christ. Sectarians sing: “There’s no repentance in the grave, nor pardon offered to the dead.” The preachers of the sects limit the mercy of God to this probation. They teach that at death the soul goes either to heaven or to hell, and its state and condition is fixed forever. if this awful doctrine were true, Satan would gain the victory over Christ, claiming as his a vast and overwhelming proportion of the human family, leaving to our great Redeemer but a small and trifling troop out of the immense and countless hosts of the armies of humanity.

”The Mercy of God Endureth Forever”

The solution of this, to many, puzzling problem is simple in the light of the true gospel of Christ restored in the latter days. “the mercy of God endureth forever.” It is not confined to the narrow boundaries of this little earth, nor tied up within the limits of time. The spirits of men and women are his sons and daughters, whether in the body or out of the body. “His tender mercies are over ALL HIS WORKS.” No one can be justly or mercifully judged by the gospel without hearing that gospel, and having the opportunity to receive or reject it. Why, then should not the Gospel of Jesus Christ be made known to those who never heard it in the flesh, after they have left the body and dwell in another sphere? Do not all the sects of Christendom, almost without exception, believe that the spirit of man is immortal, and therefore living and sentient when the body is dead? And if that is true, are not the spirits of men and women able to receive instruction and information when out of the body? Is it not the spirit of man that receives and stores up intelligence conveyed through the bodily senses? Why should the change called death, which is the separation of the body and the spirit, cut off all means of divine communication to the living, immortal, intelligent being that has simply “shuffled off this mortal coil?” there is no good reason why the spirit thus advanced one stage in its experience should not be capable of still further progress and of receiving light, knowledge, wisdom and religious teaching, especially if information essential to its eternal welfare was withheld while it dwelt in the body. Revelation as well as reason bears testimony that the word of God can be preached to the departed as well in the sphere to which they have gone as on any part of this earthly globe.

The Dead to Be Preached to

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit; by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of god waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.’ (I peter iii:18-20.) here is a declaration which, like a ray from the sun of righteousness, puts to flight the fogs and mists of modern eschatology and opens up to view a vast field of understanding, wherein the justice, wisdom and mercy of God are displayed in glorious review. The spirits of those rebellious people who were destroyed by the flood, after suffering about 2,000 years in their prison house, were visited by the Son of God while His body was lying in the sepulchre. this was in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah concerning him, for instance: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” (Isaiah lxi:1.) And further: “to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah xlii:7.) And again: “That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth. to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves.” (Isaiah xlix:09.)

Christ’s Mission to the Spirit World

The common notion is that when Christ on the cross “bowed his head and gave up the ghost,” he went direct to heaven, as it is supposed that all good people do, but on the third day after this, when Christ appeared to Mary, he said to her: “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” (John xx:17.) The time spent by the Savior between his death and his resurrection, instead of being in heaven was among the “spirits in prison,” the “captives” whom he went to deliver. Thus Jesus could preach without his body, and the spirits whom he visited could hear also without their bodies. But what was the nature of his preaching to those who were held in captivity? let Peter answer this question. “For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that the might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (I Peter iv:6.) Thus it appears that the same gospel which was preached to men in the body was also preached to men out of the body, so that all might be judged by the same gospel, which is to be preached to “every creature.” That the message of deliverance ot the captives and the opening of the prison to them that were bound was successful is evident form the scriptural statement concerning Christ: “He led captivity captive.” (Eph. iv:8.)

Work of Redemption Beyond the Veil

Jesus promised his disciples that the works which he did they should do also. The mission and Priesthood which his Father gave to him he gave also to them. It is therefore clear that the work of redemption commenced on earth will be carried on in the sphere beyond the veil. And that it will be performed in the latter times, may be learned without doubt fro the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the end of the world, in which he foretells as one of the events of that period: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth; and they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.” (Isaiah xxiv: 21-22.)

Time of the Judgement Day

The spirit of man when out of the body, being an intelligent entity, a thinking, progressive and responsible being, capable of hearing and believing or rejecting truth, must be also capable of repenting of evil and learning to do well. Thus the mercy of God can reach such a being independent of the mortal structure in which it was permitted to dwell on earth. The idea that the eternal future of man is fixed at death comes from a mistaken notion concerning “the judgment day.” Both Christ and his Apostles taught that the time of judgment was set by the Father to take place “when the son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him.” (Matt. xxv:31-46.) Paul declared that Christ would come to judge the quick and the dead “at his appearing and his kingdom.” (II Tim. iv:1.) It was at that day that Paul expected to obtain “a crown of righteousness.” (Verse 8.) And the time of the judgment is fixed in the book of Revelation to be after the resurrection from the dead, when the small and the great shall stand before God, and the books shall be opened, and the dead shall be judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works. (Rev. xx.)

Erroneous Ideas Concerning the Final Judgment

The popular notion that final judgment takes place at the death of each individual, and that he is then and there exalted to heaven or thrust down to hell, is utterly wrong and unscriptural. yet it has prevailed in Christendom for many centuries, and it remained for the Prophet of the 19th Century, Joseph Smith, by divine inspiration to bring forth the glorious light in the midst of dense spiritual darkness, and show forth the mercy and goodness of Almighty God in providing means by which every soul of Adam’s race, either in the body or out of the body, may learn the way of the Lord, the ever lasting Gospel, the only plan of salvation. It is to be preached to all them that are dead who could not hear it while living in the flesh, and they can repent and turn unto God and be taught the things of his kingdom. The doctrine of purgatory, which is part of the Roman Catholic creed, is a perversion of this doctrine of Christ, but the idea of the former came from a misunderstanding of the latter. There is an intermediate state in which the spirits of the departed remain between death and the resurrection of the body, and, as will be pointed out in a succeeding chapter, there are works which may be performed by the living in behalf of the dead, but only such as are impossible of performance in the spirit world.

Christ a Ransom for All

The Apostle Paul declared that Jesus Christ “gave himself a ransom for ALL, to be testified indue time.” (I Tim. ii:6.) The time has now come. The testimony of this great truth is proclaimed by prophets and apostles raised up in these latter days, and by the voice of angels from heaven, and by the witness of the Holy Ghost, which bears record of the Father and the Son. Let all people rejoice and praise the Lord for this new revelation of his loving kindness and tender mercies extended over all his works, and let his light shine to the uttermost parts of the earth and penetrate to the darkest abode of the regions behind the veil, that truth may triumph everywhere and God be glorified in the obedience and salvation of his children!

Questions from the Mission Field. Can You Answer Them?

1. What is meant by “Repent and be saved?”

2. If death bed repentance is not sufficient, explain the words of the Savior on the cross.

3. What is meant by “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”?

1941: Gospel Doctrine Sunday School Lessons

Lesson 84: An Extension of Gospel Privileges to the Dead

(Read Sections 127, 128, 129, 130, 131)

1. An Age-Old Query: for centuries now thoughtful Christians have been asking themselves this question: “What is to become of the millions of Earth’s inhabitants who, during their lifetime never even heard of Jesus?” Many of these were as upright in their lives as the best of Christ’s followers, according to their light.

No one, no matter how learned in theology, was able to give a satisfactory answer to this question. Their only reply was what the Latter-day Saints themselves were wont to sin before the new conception of salvation was revealed:

God is just is all we say.
Seek no crop where ‘twas not planted,
Nor a day where reigns the night.

But Joseph Smith had a definite, satisfying answer to the query. and so, when the present hymn book was published, this lyric was altered to –

What became of those departed,
Knowing not the gospel plan?
In the spirit-world they’ll hear it;
God is just to every man.”

Since Joseph smith’s announcement of the idea of salvation for the dead, with his condemnation of the Christian hell, some clergymen have taken a different stand on the traditional question. Says Dean Farrar, of this sort of punishment, “I repudiate these crude and glaring travesties of the awful and holy will of God; I arraign them as ignorantly merciless.” and he would have the words “damnation,” “hell,” and “everlasting” expunged “from our English bible.” Frederick Denison Maurice, also English, took higher ground as early as 1853. On his death bed, in 1872, he said, “If I can no longer preach the gospel here, I will preach it in other worlds.” he had been forced out of his chair of divinity in Kings College. But even so, these men and others like them were far from the position taken by the modern prophet. (The reader will find this phase worked out in detail in four radio talks by Nephi L. Morris, published in The vision, put out by N.B. Lundwall, pp. 107-39.)

2. Development of the Idea: The conception of salvation for the dead was a growth; it was not revealed to the Prophet all at once.

In 1836 the Kirtland Temple was dedicated. At the time of its dedication the ancient prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph and Oliver and delivered to them the “keys” by which the hearts of the living and of the dead might be efficaciously turned to each other. Before this only a hint was given of such a mission. (By Moroni, History, Vol. I, p. 12.) then nothing occurred to advance the idea, for two reasons, (a) they had no temple, now that the one in Kirtland was abandoned, and 9b) the two in contemplation were not even begun.

At first, baptisms for the dead were performed in the Mississippi River, but, according to President Young, no record was made of them. Accordingly, the Prophet, in his letter to the Saints, which forms section 127, instructed them to make a record of every ordinance and also to have witnesses to the fact. President Young informs us that the work for the dead had to be done over again on account of the absence of a record and witnesses. This letter bears the date of September 1, 1842. As the temple walls in Nauvoo rose gradually, this subject of salvation for the dead occupied the Prophet’s mind more and more.

At this time he was in hiding, because his enemies in both Missouri and Illinois were on his trail. he lived for a time at Bishop Whitney’s, then he moved to the home of Edward Hunter, where the was living when he wrote the second letter, which forms section 128.

3. The Two Letters: In the first letter Joseph instructs the Saints to have recorders and witnesses. “When any of you are baptized for your dead, let there be a recorder, and let him be eye-witness of your baptisms. … that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.” This gives a new meaning to Jesus’ words to peter about binding and loosing and also to the statement by John that the dead will be judged “out of the books.” The second letter (section 128), besides giving instructions in the matter of recordings, rises to the high plane of a principle.

This second letter came five days after the first one. the Prophet was then, as noted, living at Bishop Hunter’s. there should be more than one recorder, he explained; indeed, one in each of the Nauvoo wards, with a general recorder to keep the records. The books are to be kept in the temple when it is completed. “All this,” he further explains, “is only to answer to the will of God.” He quotes from various books of the bible – something very unusual with him, for generally he is content to be his own authority for any statement he makes.

Baptism must, of course, be by immersion. There is a reason for this form. It “answers to the likeness of the dead, that one principle might accord with the other. to be immersed in the water is in the likeness of the resurrection of the dead in coming forth out of their graves; hence this ordinance was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead, being in the likeness of the dead.”

This is real light on the subject. it raises an ordinance to something higher than a mere form.

4. The Human Race a Unit: A phrase frequently on the lips of religious folk for hundreds of years is “the human family.” Joseph Smith throws real light on this phrase.

God is the Father of our spirits. We have a Mother in heaven. The earth was made for our eternal home. In the pre-earth world, where we all were “with the Father,” a plan of life was formulated for us – the “everlasting gospel.” On earth we took upon ourselves a “tabe4rnacle” of flesh and blood, through which we might come to greater heights of being. Part of the plan of life was that Jesus, our elder Brother, should die for us, unconditionally as to our salvation, but conditionally as to our exaltation in the presence of our Father.

But there have been countless millions of God’s children who, while they lived on the Earth, did not have the privilege of obeying this gospel plan. Since, however, they are essentially spirits, able to think and feel and act, they can accept the plan in the spirit world after death. The ordinances, though, must be performed for them by someone in the flesh – baptism, confirmation, and the rest. Thus all of God’s children will have an opportunity to embrace the gospel, either here in the flesh or there in the spirit. None will be exempt from the law. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned.”

Thus the responsibility of accepting or rejecting the gospel is placed squarely on the individual, and thus, too, everyone is reached in whatever age or country he may have lived on Earth. All are children of God, all are brothers of Christ, and all have the same opportunity to obey or to disobey the gospel.

5. An Ecstasy:

Questions and Problems

1. In what light does the sectarian notion of salvation for only the few put God? Contrast our idea of hell and of heaven with that of others.

2. What answer does Joseph Smith make to the question raised by this sectarian conception of hell and salvation? How can those who are dead receive truth? How can they be baptized? The Prophet said once that it is no more unreasonable that God should save the dead than that he should raise them from the grave.

3. Show how the tardy beliefs of the most thoughtful ministers tried to catch up with Joseph Smith’s. Have they caught up with him entirely? How far do they go with h8im?

4. Show how the Prophet’s ideas teach the unity of the human race. the justice of God. The universality of His plan to save and exalt men.

5. Memorize the passage beginning with – “Let the mountains shout for joy.” who composed a song to these words?

1942: “Out of the Books”: Genealogical Training Class

Lesson 1: The Prisoners Shall Go Free

Problem: Why every Latter-day Saint should be active in temple work.

Every true Latter-day Saint should be actively engaged in temple work, or in the kindred activities of genealogical research and record keeping. The reason for this traces back to the pre-mortal period of our existence.

1. Man’s Pre-existent Agreement. At the great council in Heaven, before the world was, the gospel plan of life and salvation was presented to all of us as spirits, and we joyfully accepted it. The gospel consisted of certain principles and ordinances, eternal in their nature – principles to be accepted and practiced in our lives, ordinances to be administered by those holding the requisite priesthood authority. By obedience to these principles and ordinances the children of God might attain to a fulness of salvation and exaltation, and after the experience in earth life, come back into the Father’s presence clothed upon with glory, immortality and eternal life.

It was also made known to us that sin and death would enter the world and make disastrous inroads among mortal beings. Because of wickedness among mankind the gospel, for long periods, would be taken from the earth. whole generations would live and die without ever hearing these precious truths, and with no opportunity of receiving these divine ordinances because the Priesthood was not upon the earth. Since this eventuality was foreknown, provision was divinely made to provide an equal opportunity for all of the children of God. Undoubtedly it was there made plain to us that in the latter days, when the Gospel was restored in its fulness and the requisite Priesthood authority was again conferred upon mortal man, living beings upon the earth might officiate vicariously for those who had lived without these advantages in previous ages. to those of us privileged to tabernacle upon the earth in this last dispensation, the opportunity was given to receive of these blessings, and attendant upon this opportunity, was the responsibility to aid materially in the fulfillment of the Lord’s plan.

This is beautifully and clearly explained by Elder John A. Widtsoe:

In our pre-existent 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 became 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 pur0pose of the eternal plan of salvation.

That places us in a very responsible attitude towards the human race. By that doctrine, with the Lord at the head, we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold numbers of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor his highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.

2. Before the world Was. President Brigham Young once uttered this truth: “The order of redeeming our relatives originated in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith was also very emphatic in declaring this same fact. Said he:

“You may think this order of things to be very particular, but let me tell you, that it is only to answer the will of God, by conforming to the ordinance and preparation that the Lord ordained and prepared before the foundation of the world, for the salvation of the dead who should die without a knowledge of the Gospel.” (Doc. & Cov. 128:5.) And again, “For out of the books shall your dead be judged, according to their own works, whether they themselves have attended to the ordinances in their own propria persona, or by the means of their own agents, according to the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world.” (Doc. & Cov. 128:8.)

In view of the foregoing definite statements, it is clearly incumbent upon latter-day Saints first, to find out exactly what was the Lord’s plan for us to follow in redeeming our kindred dead, and second, to follow strictly that fore-ordained plan in all our research, record making and temple work.

3. They Had No Opportunity. Myriads of our Father’s children had no chance to receive the Gospel and its ordinances during their lifetime, yet great numbers of them were good, honest and honorable men and women living lives of service and charity, virtuous in their conduct and God-fearing in their attitude. The Lord even held out the promise to many of them that they should not be forgotten, that in the latter days their children should arise and come to their help. “Throughout the centuries these righteous men and women, according to their understanding of truth, struggled valiantly for political and religious freedom, that the world might be better for their children and children’s children. For us giving today they earned great blessings. It is our high opportunity and obligation to assist them.

The Prophet has explained that all of the dead who would have received the Gospel had they been privileged to hear it during their life, and who do receive it when it is preached to them in the spirit world, shall be heirs of salvation. Great numbers of the worthy dead, our forefathers, are therefore vitally interested in our efforts to help them. Many times, undoubtedly, their influence is exerted to make easier our pathway as we come to their assistance.

4. If the Fathers Could Speak to Us. This thought is given emphatic expression by President Brigham Young.

”What do you suppose the fathers would say if they could speak from the dead? Would they not say, ‘We have lain here thousands of years, here in this prison house, waiting for this dispensation to come? Here we are, bound and fettered, in the association of those who are filthy?’ What would they whisper in our ears? Why, if they had the power the very thunders of heaven would be in our ears, if we could but realize the importance of the work we are engaged in. All the angels in heaven are looking at this little handful of people, and stimulating them to the salvation of the human family. So also are the devils in hell looking at this people, too, and trying to overthrow us. * * * when I think upon this subject, I want the tongues of seven thunders to wake up the people.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 618.)

5. The Gospel to the Dead. Just previous to his death President Joseph F. Smith was given a vision of the redemption of the dead. he saw the Savior, after his death, visit the spirit world. From among the righteous the Master organized his forces of missionaries clothed with the power and authority of the Priesthood, and commissioned them to go forth proclaiming the Gospel to all the spirits of men. Ever since that time such missionaries have been preaching the Gospel to the dead, proclaiming liberty to the captives who were bound, offering hope to all who would repent of their sins.

“Thus was the Gospel preached to those who had died in their sins without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying on of hands, and all other principles of the Gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh and live according to God in the spirit. * * *

“I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel and repentance and redemption through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead. The dead who repent will be redeemed through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, and after they have paid the penalty of their transgression and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 599, 601.)

6. What We Should Do.

“The work for our dead,” said President Joseph F. Smith, “which the Prophet Joseph laid upon us with more than ordinary injunction, instructing us that we should look after those of our kinsfolk and our ancestors who have died without the knowledge of the gospel, should not be neglected. We should avail ourselves of those sacred and potent ordinances of the gospel which have been revealed as essential to the happiness, salvation and redemption of those who have lived in this world when they could not learn the gospel and have died without the knowledge of it, and are now waiting for us, their children, who are living in an age when these ordinances can be performed, to do the work necessary for their release from the prison-house. Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from them, and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work that has been done for them by their children here, and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 593.)

This great but joyous labor of rescuing our forefathers from the prison house, expands continually as the work progresses, actually and ultimately involving the destiny of thousands and hundreds of thousands of souls. Small wonder that the Prophet, envisioning the ultimate magnitude of this great mission laid upon Latter-day Saints, exclaimed: “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.”

8. Let Us GO ON! Once again, at the height of his inspiration, in the fervor of his great soul, he cried out:

”Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. courage, brethren: and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceeding glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison: for the prisoners shall go free. (Doc. & Cov. 128:22.)

1943: Gospel Standards: Gospel Doctrine Sunday School Lessons

Lesson 7: TEMPLE WORK

We go to the temple, first of all, as individuals to receive spiritual strength and be “endowed with power from on high,” that we may triumph over all the temptations of life, be filled with a righteous zeal to serve our fellow men, and qualify for an exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Second, we assist in administering saving ordinances for the dead, like those we ourselves have received, that they also may have the opportunity to be blessed and exalted. Finally, by the sealing powers of the Priesthood we unite parents and children in an eternal family union, and seek to link up families in a chain of family groups from the beginning to the present days.

The order of redeeming our dead originated in heaven. (See Doctrine and Covenants, 128:5, 28; also “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” p. 308) It was ordained “before the world was” that baptisms, endowments and sealings might be performed vicariously by living descendants for those who died without a knowledge of the Gospel. Every Latter-day Saint has before him a mighty mission to serve as a savior to the house of his fathers. Temple work has been called “an extension of missionary work.” In the missions are taught mainly the first principles and ordinances; the higher and more advanced principles and ordinances can be presented only in a house of God, a holy temple dedicated to that purpose.

“I know of no work that brings greater peace and comfort to the human heart,” said President Heber J. Grant, “than the missionary work in the church of Jesus Christ, at home or abroad, going out to proclaim the gospel, sitting down and talking upon the Gospel, or entering into the temples and doing work for our loved ones that have gone before. I am myself a firm believer that more people have been interested in the gospel on account of the restoration again to the church of the work for the dead than through almost any other single thing. I know of a great many converts I have met who had no interest in the Church until the doctrine of redemption for the dead was taught to them.” (“Utah Genealogical Magazine,” Vol. 23, p. 9; Jan., 1932)

To attend the temple and serve therein is a priceless privilege leading to peace and happiness. “I am converted,” continued President Grant, “to the thought that the way to peace and happiness in life is by giving service. Service is the true key, I believe, to happiness, because when we perform labors like missionary work, all the rest of our lives we can look back upon our accomplishments in the mission field. When we perform any acts of kindness they bring a feeling of satisfaction and pleasure into our hearts.” (Ibid., p. 10)

“Do the Latter-day Saints who have the privilege of entering our holy temples, appreciate the great blessing that is given to them, and do they, in very deed, realize that they are treading upon ‘holy ground’?

“We receive so many blessings from the Lord, among the greatest of which is the privilege of officiating in the temples, that I sometimes think these blessings become commonplace and are not fully appreciated. Our hearts do not go out, as they should, in gratitude to God for His blessings to us.” (“Gospel Standards,” p. 276)

At a genealogical convention held at Preston, Idaho, President Grant uttered these inspiring words: “I am thoroughly converted to the fact that we can do nearly anything that we want to do within the bounds of reason. The important thing is the desire. Unless you have it in your heart to want to do temple work it will not be done. but if you get it into your heart and soul that this is one of the most important things you as Latter-day Saints can do, you will find a way to do it. That is the one lesson of all others that I would like to impress upon you.” (Deseret News, Dec. 20, 1930; “Improvement Era,” Vol. 44, p. 459, Oct., 1941)

The most eloquent teaching on temple work by President Grant is the outstanding and impressive example he has set before the people. “Believing firmly that example preaches louder than precept, I started some few years ago the habit of going to the temple, and it is very seldom that anything interferes with my so going once a week. I have had the pleasure on more than one occasion of having over twenty of my relatives and friends go of an evening to the temple with me, and it has awakened an itnerest on their part in this work, and soem of them have been able to secure information regarding their ancestors that has come in a rather remarkable and wonderful way. I am sure if we were to collect the various experiences that people have had in obtaining information that has led them to get a record of their forefathers, that it would be one of the most faith-promoting things that we could have.” (“Utah Genealogical Magazine,” Vol. 23, p. 10, Jan., 1832)

1949: Doctrine and Covenants Studies, by Bryant S. Hinckley

Chapter 44: NAUVOO TEMPLE (Section 124)

This section, one of the longest in the Doctrine and Covenants (145 verses), was given to Joseph Smith, the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, then the headquarters of the Church, on January 19, 1841. It refers to a proclamation to be made to the leaders and rulers of the world, to the blessed state of those members who had died, to the Nauvoo House, and to the Nauvoo Temple. This lesson is based upon a study of verses 28-53, inclusive.

The Latter-day Saints, who had been robbed, plundered, and stripped of all their earthly possessions, were driven from the state of Missouri under the cruel edict of Government Lilburn W. Boggs, with the malediction of heaven upon those who thus persecuted them. Many of the Saints found their way to Quincy, Illinois, where they were received with kindness, and where they made a temporary home on the public square of that city. The people of Quincy provided them with the necessities of life and endeavored to secure employment for them as far as they could. When Joseph Smith was freed from Liberty Jail, he returned to the body of the Saints, and immediate steps were taken to secure land and establish a gathering place for them. On May 10th, 1839, with his family, the Prophet moved into a log house which still stands in what was then known as Commerce, now Nauvoo.

Thus, we begin with the magic story of that historic city. The achievements of our people in Nauvoo stand without a parallel in the annals of history. With nothing but their bare hands and their sublime faith in God, they pulled a magnificent city out of a bog, and built a temple to the glory of God, all of which is proof of their industry, their faith, their self-reliance and co-operation.

The Prophet Joseph Smith spent the remaining years of his life in this great achievement. Things moved rapidly, and the city grew as if by magic. On January 19, 1841, this important revelation was received.

Why Built?

The Kirtland Temple had been built and dedicated, and the keys of former dispensations had been restored. However, in this temple, only a partial endowment was given. Following this, greater light was revealed and the full purpose of temples and ordinance work therein was made known. Then it became necessary that a house be built that would be perfect in all its parts, which was not the case in the kirtland Temple. In it no provisions were made for the salvation of the dead. It did not have a baptismal font, a fundamental part of a perfect temple. Therefore, since it had filled the measure of its creation, the Lord declared in the revelation of January, 1841, that there was not a house on the earth where he could come to bestow the fulness of the priesthood and introduce the sacred ordinances for the salvation of both the living and the dead.

Baptism for the Dead

“The doctrine of baptism for the dead was first made known to the Saints in a discourse by the Prophet at the funeral of Elder Seymour Brunson, August 10th, 1840. This doctrine was not understood by him until after the restoration of the keys and the priesthood of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple, although it had been referred to since the night of the first appearance of Moroni. In this revelation of January, 1841, the Lord revealed grater light regarding this wonderful principle. It was here made known that this ordinance was to be performed in the temple of the Lord. A baptismal font for this purpose was to be placed in the basement of the temple, ‘as a simile of the grave, and was commanded to be in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble, to show forth the living and the dead; and that all things may have their likeness, and that they may accord one with another; that which is earthly conforming to that which is heavenly.’” (Essentials in Church History, p. 304.)

The doctrine of baptism for the dead had been made known sometime previous to this and the ordinances had been performed in the Mississippi River, and other convenient places, but this is an ordinance of the house of the Lord, and cannot be acceptable unto him when performed elsewhere, only in the days of the poverty of his people.

To show the importance of temples, the Lord reminds us of how he had commanded Moses to build a tabernacle that the children of Israel could bear with them in the wilderness. Another reason for building it is given in these words, “… let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times. And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof, … And ye shall build it on the place where ye have contemplated building it, for that is the spot which I have chosen for you to build it.” (D & C 124:40-43.)

The city of Nauvoo itself is one of the most beautiful sites on the Mississippi River, and the temple lot is the most beautiful place in Nauvoo for the erection of a temple. Work proceeded at once and soon preparations were made for the laying of the cornerstone.

Cornerstones Laid

Quoting Vol. II, page 67, Comprehensive History: “The sixth of April, 1841, was a memorable day in the history of Nauvoo. That day the corner stones of the great temple which God had commanded his people to build were laid. To the Prophet Joseph the day must have been a veritable gleam of sunshine amid the constantly renewing storms of his eventful career. It was a beautiful day, clear and balmy – auspicious for the exercises to take place.

“Early in the morning there was a hurrying to and fro in the streets of militiamen, for the presence of sixteen uniformed companies of the Nauvoo Legion was to add brightness and interest to the imposing ceremonies. A great procession was formed and marched to the temple site. Here the legion was formed in a hollow square surrounding the excavation made for the foundation of the temple, and enclosing the officers of the legion, choir, citizens and prominent elders of the church who were to lay the corner stones of that structure. Sidney Rigdon was the orator of the occasion … He is said to have spoken with his old fervor and eloquence. He reviewed the trials of the past, the blessings they then enjoyed, the brightening prospects of the future, and dwelt at some length upon the importance of building temples, and the labor to be performed in them.

“At the conclusion of the oration, at the direction of the First Presidency, the architects lowered the southeast corner stone to its place, and President Smith said: ‘This principal corner stone in representation of the first presidency, is now duly laid in honor of the great God; and may it there remain until the whole fabric is completed; and may the same be accomplished speedily; that the Saints may have a place in which to worship God, and the son of Man may have where to lay his head.’ To which Sidney Rigdon added: ‘May the persons employed in the erection of this house be preserved from all harm while engaged in its construction, till the whole is completed, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, even so, amen.’

“Thus was laid the chief corner stone of the Nauvoo Temple. The ceremonies attending upon the event occupied the entire forenoon. In the afternoon the remaining corner stones were laid amid the continued rejoicing of the saints; and even strangers forgot their prejudices and joined with hearty good will, as interested spectators of the proceedings. ‘Such an almost countless multitude of people,’ says one enthusiastic account of the scenes of the day, written at the time, ‘moving in harmony, in friendship, in dignity, told with a voice not easily misunderstood, that they were a people of intelligence, and virtue, and order; in short, that they were saints; and that the God of love, purity and light, was their God, their exemplar and director; and that they were blessed and happy.’”

At a conference of the Church held in Nauvoo Oct. 5, 1841, the Prophet made this announcement: “There shall be no more baptisms for the dead until the ordinance can be attended to in the Lord’s House, and the Church will not hold another conference until they can meet in said house, for thus saith the Lord.” The reason for this announcement was that the temple had progressed so far that the font in the basement had been prepared for this ordinance; therefore, baptism for the dead could no longer be performed in the river.

Font Dedicated

On Nov. 8th, 1841 the baptismal font in the temple was dedicated. It is described as being situated in the center of the basement room under the main hall of the temple. It was constructed of fine timber and put together by staves, tongued and grooved, oval shaped, sixteen feet long east and west, twelve feet wide, seven feet high from foundation, and the base four feet deep. The molding of the cap and base were formed by beautiful wood. It stood upon twelve oxen, four on each side and two at each end. Their heads, shoulders and fore legs projected from under the font. The oxen and the ornamental mouldings were carved by elder Elijah Fordham, and the work took him eight months to finish. This font was replaced later by a permanent font, which was made durable.

On Sunday, Nov. 21, 1841, the Twelve met in council at President Young’s house and at four o’clock, they retired to the baptismal font in the temple, where President Young, Elder Heber C. Kimball and John Taylor baptised about forty persons for their dead. Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith confirmed them. These were the first baptisms for the dead in the font in the Lord’s House. From this time forth, and as long as the Saints remained in Nauvoo, baptisms for the dead were performed in the temple.

The Temple Dedicated

After arrangements had been made for the removal of the Saints from Nauvoo, the work on the temple continued with increased diligence, until the structure was completed, Jan. 1, 1846. The work of finishing the assembly room for dedication was nearing completion. The general conference of the church was held in the building in October, 1845. In December, ordinance work in the temple was commenced, and thereafter the building was occupied both day and night for the Saints to receive their endowments. This continued until most all of the Saints had departed on their westward journey. After the majority of the people had departed from the city, the temple was publicly dedicated in the presence of about three hundred persons. After the Saints were driven from the city of Nauvoo, the mob took possession of the temple and desecrated it. On November 19, 1848, the temple was burned, and in the year 1850, the charred walls were blown down by a cyclone. Finally, there was not one stone left upon another.

Standing on the temple block is a stone structure owned by the Catholic Church, which is built of stone taken from the temple, and in various sections of the country there were barns and other buildings built with this stone.

The Nauvoo temple faced the east and was 128 feet long, 88 feet wide, 65 feet to the square and from the ground to the top of the spire was 165 feet. It was erected by the tithing and free-will offerings of the people, and was so far advanced that on the 8th of November the same year, the baptismal font was dedicated and baptisms for the dead were administered. The cap stone was laid May 24, 1845. The upper rooms were dedicated Sunday, Dec. 76th, 1845. The sacrament was administered and endowments were commenced on the tenth of December. The lower part of the building was dedicated with public services on Friday, May 1, 1846.

1950: Principles of the Gospel: Advanced Senior Department Course of Study

Lesson 16: Latter-day Saint Temple Work

“The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the means by which salvation has been placed within the reach of all mankind – poor and rich, bond and free, and, be it added, living or dead.

“We have seen in the light of scriptural demonstration that, except through compliance with the laws and ordinances of the gospel as enunciated and prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ, no man can attain a place in the Kingdom of God.

“What then of the dead, who have lived and passed without so much as hearing that there is a gospel of salvation or a Savior of the race? Are they to be hopelessly and forever damned? If so, the phrase ‘eternal justice’ should be stricken from scripture and literature, and ‘infamous injustice’ substituted.

“Think of the myriads who died before and at the Deluge, of the hosts of Israel who knew only the Law and died in [partial] ignorance of the gospel [Doc. & Cov. Sec. 84 and 124:37, 98.], and count in with them the millions of their pagan contemporaries; then think of the generations who passed away during the long dark night of spiritual apostasy, predicted by prophecy and attested by history; and contemplate the heathen and but partly civilized tribes of the present day. Are these, to whom no knowledge of the gospel has come, to be under eternal condemnation in consequence?” (Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, pp. 248-249.)

“The gospel is being preached to the dead. Missionary service in the spirit world has been in progress since its inauguration by the disembodied Christ while His crucified body lay in the tomb. (John 5:25.)

“Christ’s promise from the cross to the penitent thief dying by His side, that the man should that day be in paradise with the Lord, tells us where the Savior’s spirit went and ministered during the interval between death and resurrection. Paradise is not heaven, if by that name we mean the abode of god and the place of the supremely blessed; for in the early light of the resurrection Sunday the Risen Lord decisively affirmed that he had not then ascended to His Father. (John 20:17.)

“Peter tells of the Lord’s ministry among the disembodied: ‘For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.’ (I Peter 3:18-19.)

“The terms of salvation are equally binding upon the quick and the dead: ‘For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.’ (I Peter 4:6.) (Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, p. 250.)

“Progression, then, is possible beyond the grave. Advancement is eternal. Were it otherwise, Christ’s ministry among the disembodied would be less than fable and fiction. Equally repugnant is the thought that though the Savior preached faith, repentance, and other principles of the gospel to the imprisoned sinners in the realm of spirits their compliance was impossible.

“It is not difficult to conceive of disembodied spirits being capable of faith and repentance. Death has not destroyed their status as individual intelligences. As they heard the glad tidings of the gospel some will accept, and others, the obstinate and rebellious, will reject and for further period will have to languish in prison.

“Besides the principles of the gospel there are certain ordinances involving material works, which are indispensable to salvation. Among these the scriptures specify baptism by immersion in water, and the reception of the Holy ghost by the imposition of authorized hands. How can a man be baptized when he is dead? The answer is that the necessary ordinances may be administered vicariously for the dead to their living representatives in the body. Thus, as a man may be baptized in his own person for himself, he may be baptized as proxy for his ancestral dead. Herein we find point and explanation of Paul’s challenging question to the doubting Corinthians: ‘Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?’ (I Cor. 15:29.)

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that the Divine plan of salvation is not bounded by the grave; but that the gospel is deathless and everlasting, reaching back through all the ages that have sped, and forward into the eternities of the future. Vicarious service by the living in behalf of the dead is in line with a result of the supreme vicarious sacrifice embodied in the Atonement wrought by the Savior of the world.” (Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, pp. 255-256.)

“The Latter-day Saints build temples because they are commanded so to do through the direct word of modern revelation; and in this divinely imposed labor they recognize the purposes of god with respect to the salvation and possible exaltation of mankind. …

“Vicarious service for the departed is peculiar to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and rightly so, for to this Church has the commission for this high ministry been given. In the last chapter of Malachi we find a vivid description of the condition of mankind in the last days, and a prophecy of gladsome promise. On April 3, 1836 in the first temple erected in modern times, that at Kirtland, Ohio, a glorious manifestation was given to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the course of which Elijah ministered in person to the two modern prophets, saying:

“‘Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi, testifying that he (Elijah), should be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come, to turn the hearts of the fathers to he children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse. Therefore the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands, and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.” (Doctrine and covenants 110:14-16.)

(Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, 299-301.)

1974-75: When Thou Art Converted, Strengthen Thy Brethren (Melchizedek Priesthood manual)

Duty Lesson 12: How to Become a Savior on Mount Zion

Is the Gospel for the Living Alone? In the course of an expressive address to the Jews on the subject of his messiahship, our Savior uttered these important words:

Read and underline: John 5:24, 25.

Why should the dead hear the voice of the Son of God? When did they hear it? What possible message did it convey? Cross reference the passage that you read above with the verses listed below:

1 Peter 3:18-20
1 Peter 4:6

What Is Meant by the Phrase “Saviors on Mount Zion”? It is all too evident that many worthy children of our Father in heaven have lived on earth without a knowledge of the saving principles of the gospel. Once that message has been declared to them I the spirit world and they have accepted it, they, like the living, become candidates of salvation. Living persons, serving as proxies, may perform the essential ordinances of salvation in their behalf.

1 Corinthians 15:29

When living persons are baptized for the dead, they literally become saviors to others, as suggested by a short and somewhat difficult passage in the Old Testament. Read and underline Obadiah verse 21.

Your objective is to seek to recognize how you may be a savior to others, in order that you may provide them with the opportunity for salvation and thus secure your own.

A Visit from an Angel Slightly less than seven years before the church was restored, the Prophet Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni. concerning this visit Joseph Smith wrote the material found in this scripture:

Reade Joseph Smith 2:33-39.

Notice verses 38, 39 once again and answer the following questions:

What did Moroni say would be revealed?

By whom was the revelation to come?

What did he say would be planted in the hearts of the children?

What then would happen?

What would happen to the earth if this were not done?

Why Send Elijah? According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Elijah was the “last prophet” in ancient Israel to hold special keys of the priesthood. the Prophet Joseph Smith said:

Why send Elijah? Because he holds the keys of the authority to administer in all the ordinances of the Priesthood; and without the authority is given, the ordinances would not be administered in righteousness. (Teachings, p. 172.)

In elaborating upon this point, another prophet, President Joseph Fielding Smith, said:

Joseph Smith was ordained under the hands of Peter, James, and John, receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, and he went forth and built the Church in this dispensation. all that he did was valid; all those ordinances were valid; but in order that the binding power should come which is recognized in the heavens, and b which we pass by the angels and the Gods to exaltation, it had to come from Elijah, who held that power upon the face of the earth, for the Lord had given it to him, and so he came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the 3rd day of April, and bestowed upon them the keys of his priesthood. (Elijah the Prophet and His Mission, pp. 36-37.)

What Are the “Promises Made to the Fathers”? In the course of his visit to Joseph Smith, Moroni spoke of “the promises made to the fathers.” Many are puzzled by such an expression. What are the promises? President Joseph f. Smith has answered this question as follows:

This expression has reference to certain promises made to those who died without a knowledge of the gospel, and without the opportunity of receiving the sealing ordinances of the Priesthood in matters pertaining to their exaltation. According to these promises, the children in the latter days are to perform all such ordinances in behalf of the dead. (Conference Report, October 1897, p. 47. See also Roy Doxey, The Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants, 1:34.)

In addition, President Joseph Fielding smith has said:

Who are the fathers spoken of by Malachi, and who are the children? the fathers are our dead ancestors who died without the privilege of receiving the gospel, but who received the promise that the time would come when that privilege would be granted them. The children are those now living who are preparing genealogical data and who are performing the vicarious ordinances in the temples.

The turning of the hearts of the children to the fathers is placing or planting in the hearts of the children that feeling and desire which will inspire them to search out the records of the dead. Moreover the planting of the desire and inspiration in their hearts is necessary. This they must have in order that the might go into the house of the Lord and perform the necessary labor for their fathers, who died without a knowledge of the gospel, or without the privilege of receiving the fulness of the gospel. (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:127-28.)

Why Will the Earth Be Utterly Wasted If This Work Is Not Done? The family organization is the most important unit in time or in eternity. Through the sealing powers restored by Elijah, husbands and wives, parents and children, may be joined together in family units, not only for this life but for the world to come. President Joseph Fielding Smith has said:

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, 2:122.)

Did Elijah Come as Prophesied? Slightly less than thirteen years following Moroni’s initial visit to Joseph Smith, Elijah returned to the earth with the promised keys.

See D&C 110:13-16

Some few years after Elijah’s return, temple work began in earnest. A heavy responsibility rests upon our shoulders, a responsibility that is intimately connected with our own salvation.

See D&C 128:15

How do you express your testimony and faith-promoting experiences with your family?

What would Jesus have you do to aid in bringing about the fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers?



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