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Gospel Doctrine Lesson 40: How We Taught This Topic in the Past

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 30, 2009

Lesson 40: Finding Joy in Temple and Family History Work


1934: Missionary Sunday School Lessons

Lesson 41: Spiritual Power through Temple Service

All temple service revolves about the idea of the sanctity and perpetuity of the family relation. The temples themselves are erected as places where sacred sealing ordinances may be performed. These ordinances are for the purpose of binding things eternally. This signifies the giving of unending endurance to the most cherished of human relationships. (See Matt. 16:19; Doc. & Cov. 132: 7, 8.) The search for genealogies consists in tracing back one’s ancestry. The purpose of it among the Latter-day Saints is to enable them to perform saving ordinances for those who have died without having done for themselves, and by the sealing power to bind them firmly together forever.

It would be singular, indeed, if a people who spent so much of energy, of effort, of time and of money for the purpose of uniting themselves with their ancestry, should neglect to secure in the present the same cementing ties for their family relationships being here presently created. That cementing together is achieved through the marriage ceremony performed according to the new and everlasting covenant. (See: The Way to Perfection by Joseph Fielding smith, pp. 253-254; Doc. & Cov. 132:7.) By initiating the family relationship in that way (and, of course by living by the prescribed standards), the perpetuity of the family relationship through future generations of offspring, who marry in the same covenant, is assured, and the work of tying back through preceding generations is limited to searching out and performing sealing ordinances for those who in the past, have, either through lack of opportunity or neglect, not done them for themselves. In thinking of past generations we must not neglect the obligations to and of the present and future ones.

But, not only do these blessings come to those who perform the temple ordinances, also by the very doing of them they gain in spiritual power and strength to live by the standards prescribed for the attainment of salvation in the presence of God. It was an understanding of this truth which moved Brigham Young some three or four years after the pioneers came to Utah to begin to build temples. he knew that such work would give participants added strength over evil. We quote here from an article written by Elder John A. widtsoe (Genealogical Magazine 12:51-63).

“Men grow mighty under the results of temple service; women grow strong under it * * *. The opposition to truth is relatively smaller if the people are engaged actively in the ordinances of the temple. * * * A temple is a place in which those whom he (God) has chosen are endowed with power from on high. And what is power? Knowledge made alive and useful – that is intelligence in action – that is power. Our temples give us power – a power based on enlarged knowledge and intelligence – a power from on high, of a quality with God’s own power. * * *.

“We have gone into these holy houses, with our minds free from ordinary earthly cares, and have literally felt the presence of God. In this way, the temples are always places where God manifests himself to man and increases his intelligence. A temple is a place of revelation.

“The temple ordinances encompass the whole plan of salvation, and elucidate matters difficult of understanding * * *. this completeness of survey and expounding of the Gospel plan, make temple worship one of the most effective methods of refreshing the memory concerning the whole structure of the Gospel * * * .

“To the man or woman who goes through the temple, with open eyes, heeding the symbols and the covenants, and making a steady continuous effort to understand the full meaning, God speaks his word, and revelations come.* * *”

1942: Senior Department, Sunday School Lessons

Lesson 40: Genealogy

Importance of Temple Work

In the last lesson we briefly discussed Temples and temple building. The Israelites in all ages have been temple builders. The idea seems to be as much a part of their religion as is the idea of God. It could not be otherwise, for we are God’s children, and our greatest hope is that we may live with Him eternally. The ordinances that unite and bind us all together are performed in temples, therefore, temples are very important.

Gathering Genealogy

The other day we saw a long chart hanging on a wall. At the bottom was the name “Rogers.” Following upwards through scores and scores of names we finally came to “Adam,” at the very top. Just how this man “Rogers” traced his lineage from ancestor to ancestor back to Adam, who was a son of God, we do not know, but that is the problem.

Adam is our first earthly parent, and from him have come all peoples of the earth. Somehow, sometime, all of us must find out way back to those first parents, Adam and Eve. Then it is our responsibility to see to it that all of the temple ordinances are performed for them, thus connecting us and all our families with the fountain head. The work will not be simple or easy, but no one ever finds it tedious or uninteresting. There is something about it which is fascinating to all who try.

Genealogies in “Bible” and “Book of Mormon” Times

Building temples and gathering genealogies are two parts of the same subject – Salvation. Temples would be useless without a list of ancestors to do work for, and the list of ancestors would help but little without temples in which to do their work.

People in ancient times must have understood this, for they kept careful records of their ancestors from generation to generation. For reasons already stated there may be errors in these pedigrees, but as they are, it is possible, with few breaks, to trace our forefathers from Adam down to at least the captivity of the Ten Tribes, 722 B.C. Following are examples of these ancient records. see if you can keep them straight in your mind.

1. From Adam to Noah. Genesis, chapter five, begins by saying: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” Then follows a list of ten generations: Adam, Seth, Enos, Cannan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech,and Noah. If, then, we could trace our ancestry back to Noah, we should have it complete to Adam.

2.From Noah to Abraham. this is not so simple as going from Adam to Noah, but it is even more interesting. It is like working out a crossword puzzle. genesis, chapter ten, is sometimes called the “Table of Nations.” It gives a genealogy of each of the three sons of Noah – Shem, Ham, and Japeth.

Inasmuch as the world is repopulated by the descendants of these three men, we must have come through the lineage of one of them. We will assume that we do not belong to the families of Ham or Japeth. Shem, then is our ancestor. In verse 21 we read that Eber (Heber) is a descendant of Shem. Now, if we can find our way back to Eber our record will be complete back to Adam.

In Luke, chapter three, is traced the ancestry of Joseph, Mary’s husband, and foster -father of Jesus, all the way back to Adam. Let us begin with the thirty-sixth verse and go backward. Noah was the father of Sem, (Shem) who was the father of Arphaxad, who was the father of Cainan, who was the father of Sala, who was the father of Heber. (Eber of Genesis 10:21) who was the father of Phalec, who was the father of Ragua, who was the father of Saruch, who was the father of Nachor, who was the father of Tara, (Terah) who was the father of Abraham.

Now, let us get our breath and list them in their descending order. Abraham, Terah, Nachor, (Nahor) Saruch, Ragua, Phalec, Heber, Cainan, Arphaxad, Shem, Noah. If we have made no mistakes we can trace the lineage of our ancestors from Adam through a total of twenty generations as follows:

1. Adam; 2. Seth; 3. Enos; 4. Cainan; 5. Mahalaleel; 6. Jared; 7. Enoch; 8. Methuselah; 9; Lamech; 10. Noah; 11. Shem; 12. Arphaxad; 13. Cainan; 14. Heber; 15. Phalec; 16. Ragua; 17. Saruch; 18. Nahor; 19. Terah; 20. Abraham.

From Abraham to the Captivity of the Ten Tribes, 722 B.C.

Abraham had three sons, Isaac, Ishmael, and Midian. Isaac is our ancestor. he had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob is our ancestor. He had twelve sons of whom Joseph again is our ancestor. Joseph had two sons, ephraim and Manasseh, of whom Ephraim is our ancestor. So far it is quite simple to get back to Abraham and through twenty ancestors to Adam: ephraim, Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, etc.

Where Do We Belong?

We shall have to watch our steps rather carefully. Ephraim became head of one of the tribes of Israel. his tribe was given land, or an inheritance, in the northern part of the land of Canaan (Palestine). when the Israelites were divided, Jeroboam, an Ephraimite, was king of the Ten Tribes. Many years later these Ten Tribes, including the tribe of Ephraim, were captured by the Assyrians and carried by them into Assyria. We have had no word from them since. they are called the “Lost Ten Tribes.” Jesus, as we have learned, visited them after his resurrection.

You will ask, “Where do we come in since our tribe, Ephraim, was lost. Are we lost too?” So far as the present writer is concerned, he cannot answer for certain. If you will call on your ward genealogical leaders, they may be able to solve the problems. Here are two suggestions. they are not easy to fix in your minds, but if you are careful you will be able to see what is meant.

1. The tribe of Ephraim, our tribe, was carried away and lost. One idea of them is that many years later the ten tribes, all, or in part went North. Many of them settled in Northern Europe, the countries from which our parents or grandparents came after they were converted to the Gospel. Our patriarchal blessings say that we are of the tribe of Ephraim, and as our ancestors came from Norther Europe where descendants of Ephraim may have settled, we could well be of that tribe.

If this idea is right, then many of us will find the genealogy of our ancestors in the countries from which they came, and if we can go back as far as Ephraim, we can account for the right pedigree back to Adam. According to this theory our ancestors went from Palestine to Assyria, to Northern Europe, and then to America.

2. It is certain that not all of the tribe of Ephraim remained with the Ten Tribes who were lost. Some of them moved down to Jerusalem and joined the Jews in the days of Jeroboam. You see, when they divided, the Jews got the temple, for it was in Jerusalem. all the tribes had helped to build it, and it really belonged to all of them. Then, too, the temple was God’s house. To Israel it was a symbol of God’s presence among them. It happened, then, that when Jeroboam introduced idolatry among the Ten Tribes, many of the best families left the Ten Tribes, and joined the Jews at Jerusalem. Lehi’s ancestors must have been among them, for more than a hundred years after the Ten Tribes were lost Lehi’s family was still in Jerusalem.

According to this idea, then, some of us may even find our ancestral line going back through Palestine through the Jewish peoples, and still we may be of the blood of ephraim.

There no doubt are errors in our arguments and conclusions, but this lesson is a good illustration of what our real problem is. Somehow, sometime, we must trace our family lines all the way back to Adam, and work must be done in the Temples of our Lord for all who desire and are worthy. the job is a large one, but it is interesting.


1. Why is temple work so important?
2. Why do we gather genealogy of our ancestors?
3. What are some of the sources from which we get these genealogies?
4. How far back are we trying to go? Why?
5. Show that people of Bible times kept genealogical records.

1942: Senior Department, Sunday School Lessons

Lesson 41: Divine Guidance

How Great the Work!

In a previous lesson we learned that temple ordinances are for the dead as well as for the living, but the living must do the work for the dead. It was also suggested that perhaps but a small portion of the people who lived on the earth ever heard of Jesus or the gospel. They will hear of Jesus in the spirit world and no doubt many will accept the Gospel, but who will do their work in the temples? How shall we know of them and get the information necessary to do their work?

This little incident suggests how great is the responsibility of each of us. Sister L. is a veteran temple worker. for years she has zealously devoted her life to gathering family genealogy. Hundreds, and no doubt thousands have been blessed through her efforts. It would seem that her responsibility was fulfilled. then something happened which made her know the work had only commenced.

One morning she went to the Manti Temple very early. As the morning was pleasant, she walked out on the temple grounds to the edge of the hill, facing west. it was an inspiring sight. For miles north, west, and south she could see the towns and villages where people were beginning their day’s work. Just below the hill, and across the street is the Manti cemetery where the city’s dead rest peacefully as a reminder to their living relatives that the temple of the Lord is near.

As she looked over the valley, suddenly it was filled with people as far as she could see – throngs of them, all looking up to her and pointing toward the temple by which she was standing. The vision closed. She returned to her labors in the temple doing the work for one more of that mighty, anxious throng.

Perhaps if all who are depending upon us for their temple work were to appear in a similar way, we should find ourselves with a responsibility equally as great. The harvest truly is great, and the laborers are few. What will be our attitude toward this work?

How Can We Know About Them?

If our unbroken records are to go entirely back to Adam, and there are countless multitudes between us and Adam whom we have never heard of, how can we ever get their records? How can Sister L. get the necessary information concerning each member of the countless multitude she saw in the valley before the temple?

At the present we may not know. Miracles may happen to aid in the work. But she is not waiting for am miracle. she is making every possible effort herself to secure additional names. somehow they keep coming. There may come a time when her powers are exhausted, then help will come. the ones on the other side are more anxious than we, and they will cooperate with us in every possible way. Numerous instances are recorded where such cooperation has been given.

In a certain community in Utah lived Mr. “A., a gentleman who was very much interested in gathering genealogy and doing temple work for the dead. Finally, he could find no more names of his family. He seemed to have come to the end of his ability to get more, so the temple work stopped.

In that same little town was another gentleman, Mr. b. he was a bachelor and not a member of the Church. He was a good man and a good neighbor. He had no relatives in the community, but many friends. He accumulated considerable property, and died without leaving any will.

Mr. A. was appointed administrator of Mr. B.’s estate. As there were no known relatives, he advertised th death of Mr. B. in a number of papers and magazines. One day a gentleman from the East, Mr. C., appeared, claiming to be the legal heir. He proved his identity and the affair was satisfactorily consummated.

During the conversations Mr. C. remarked to Mr. A., “My wife’s maiden name is the same as your name. Her family has just published a book on genealogy which takes her family origins back for many generations.” When Mr. C. returned home, he sent Mr. A. one of these books. With great joy Mr. A. found in it the very names to carry his family record several centuries farther back toward Adam. The way was opened, and the temple work continued.

If we will take the last step insight, the Lord and those who are in the spirit world will guide up to the next. We may be sure that those who are waiting for their work to be done will use every means within their power to see that it is properly taken care of. After all, it depends upon us and our interest, and our faith whether the work goes slow or fast.

Sister W. is a devout temple worker. she is pretty well alone, for most other members of the rather large family do very little about it. Once after she had worked many weeks searching for family names, she was rewarded by finding quite a number. With joy she visited among the relatives explaining what she had found, and asking their help and cooperation in having the temple work done at once.

She succeeded in arranging a date when a large company of them would go on an excursion to the temple and do all the work in one day. The plan was perfect, and her heart was filled with joy. It was to be a sort of family reunion and a day of great rejoicing. At last the time arrived. To be sure that everything would go as planned, she went the rounds the evening before to check on preparations. alas, what a disappointment! All but one man and his wife made excuses why they could not go. With sorrow she returned to her home, and poured out her soul in prayer to the Lord. If Sister W. was disappointed, what of those whose work was to be done that day? No doubt they were at the temple waiting.

Morning came and sister W. and the one man and his wife went to the temple to do what they could. When they entered, there was a large crowd of people from another ward. They were seriously discussing among themselves. The truth is that in some way they had come to the temple without the list of names for whom they were to do the work. They accepted Sister W.’s names, and the entire list was taken care of that day.

But, you are asking, what of those whose names had been left at home? There was little time lost for them by the incident. The company returned and did their work soon after. In imagination, I see some beautiful team-work among the spirits concerned in these two groups. Sister W.’s helpers failed her. If she had to do the work alone it would have taken a long time. The people from the other ward were zealous workers. Together they could do the work for both groups immediately.

Perhaps in the spirit world both groups got together. They understood the conditions here and planned the incident as it actually occurred, and all were made happier except the ones who failed to keep their appointment with Sister W. They lost a blessing.


We might continue for hours to relate similar interesting experiences connected with this work of sacrifice and love. These two or three illustrations will suffice to show that temple ordinance are of divine origin, and that God in some way will bring about His purposes. If we are faithful, and do our whole duty, the way will be opened, and our family lines will eventually be extended back in an unbroken chain to our Father Adam.


1. First we must do all we can to get names of our forefathers. When we have done this, what else may be done?
2. How can the dead help in gathering genealogy?
3. What tribe of Israel do you belong to? how may we find out when we have no genealogical record which tells?
4. Who are patriarchs, and what is their special mission?
5. Who are the patriarchs in your ward or stake?

1950: The Principles and Practice of Genealogy, by Joseph Sudweeks
Course of Study for the Sunday Schools

Lesson 10-12: Our Responsibility to our Own

What would it profit me, though I should go out into the world and win strangers to the fold of God and lose my own children? Oh, God, let me not lose my own! I cannot afford to lose mine, whom God has given me and whom I am responsible for before the Lord, and who are dependent upon me for guidance, for instruction, for proper influences. … The Lord help me to save my own, so far as one can help another. I realize that I cannot save anybody, but I can teach them how to be saved. I can set an example before my children how they can be saved, and it is my duty to do that first. … Then, when I have accomplished the work I should do in my own home circle, let me extend my power for good abroad just as far as I can. [Joseph Fl. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 583.]

A. Nature of Responsibility

Responsibility means moral accountability, reliability, trustworthiness. It is closely related to obligation and duty. it implies a knowledge of the situation which calls forth the feeling of duty; it also implies the power or ability to help the one in need. In general, mankind feels a responsibility to help those who are weak, ignorant, or helpless. The normal parent feels a high degree of this obligation toward his children – the younger or the more helpless the children, the greater the obligation. In the above quotation President Joseph F. Smith indicates a full realization of the obligation that he owes to his own children – those who have a greater claim upon him than upon any other person, unless it is their mother.

All who are in positions of power and influence have corresponding obligations to those whom they serve or those who are likely to follow their example. The parent and the teacher perhaps feel this obligation more keenly than others. Since it is part of our duty to know situations in which those to whom we are responsible are likely to be found, we may not be able to free ourselves entirely from condemnation by a plea of ignorance.

In a broad sense, we are really “keepers” of all whom we influence for good or bad, by or through what we say or what we do. Cain’s answer to God’s question, ‘where is Abel, thy brother?” would seem to indicate that he was not responsible for the welfare of Abel. The very fact that Cain had the power to kill his younger brother proves that he was indeed, “his brother’s keeper.” The following question might very pertinently be put to one whose living does not have the same high moral tone as his words: How can I hear what you say when what you are rings so loudly in my ears?

B. Great Responsibilities of Life

The author of Seeking After Our Dead [Archibald F. Bennett, Seeking After Our Dead, p. 38.] names these as the “outstanding responsibilities of life”:

1. To live pure lives as individuals.

2. To marry and rear a righteous posterity.

3. To bring souls to God.

4. To redeem our progenitors.

These obligations apply with peculiar force to latter-day Saints. That is especially true of the last responsibility named. In fact, probably no one but a member of our Church realizes or feels any such obligation, to any extent. Thsi is one of the strongest reasons why we should feel a greater obligation. There are so few of us to be obligated to so many.

Living pure lives.

This is a fundamental and basic obligation – the most fundamental of the four. Without this, all religion would seem to be more or less a sham. In fact there can be no true religion without morality. The other three obligations would be impossible without this first one. this idea of righteous living has been sufficiently treated, for the purpose of this book, in Chapter IV, Dl. Requirements for the Living and the Dead.

Marrying and rearing a righteous posterity.

The quotation at the beginning of the chapter shows that President Smith sensed very keenly his duties as a father. In the work of creation, god recognized the desirability of the husband-wife relationship, as the following passage indicates: “And the Lord god said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for hi. (Gen. 2:18.)

Marriage, the institution that makes family life possible, is both sanctioned by society and ordained by god. … It is natural for men and women to be attracted to each other and to seek the normal relationship of marriage and family life. And it is natural also for this life together when properly conducted, to bring genuine satisfaction, happiness, and joy to those who participate. [Harold t. Christensen, The Latter-day Saint Family, p. 1.]

Then from genesis, “And God blessed them, and god said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. …” (Gen. 1:28.) this was the first commandment that God gave to our first parents.

Quoting from the Psalms: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: … Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them. …” (Psalms 127:3, 5.)

Obligation of parents to their children. Let us see what modern revelation has to say concerning parental obligation.

All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age. (Doc. and Cov. 83:4.)

But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten;

Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me; (Ibid., 29:46, 47.)

And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ, the son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents. …

And their children shall be baptized for the remission of sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.

And they shall also teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord. (Ibid., 68:25-28.)

Parents are obliged to know the commandments of God concerning rearing of children, and to discharge this obligation. Otherwise, it is the parents’ sin. What is called child delinquency could usually be more appropriately called parental delinquency.

What parent would not be impressed by the following poem, as to the importance of setting a proper example to son or daughter?


A father and his tiny son
Crossed a rough street one stormy day,
“See, papa,” cried the little one,
“I stepped in your steps all the way.”

Ah, random, childish hands, that dea.
Quick thrusts no coat of proof could stay.
it touched him with the touch of steel –
“I stepped in your steps all the way.”

if this man shirks his manhood’s due,
and heeds what lying voices say,
It is not one who falls but two,
“I stepped in your steps all the way.”

But they who thrust off greed and fear,
Who love and watch, who toil and pray,
How their hearts carol when they say,
“I stepped in your steps all the way.”

Since persons are exalted in family groups – not as lone individuals independent of family connection – we must be concerned with the welfare of our parents and our children. Otherwise, we cannot hope to attain the highest degree of salvation. Because of this connection, we have a somewhat selfish reason for wishing our children and parents and others closely related to fulfill the requirements for the glory toward which we are striving. there are undoubtedly cases of neglect on the part of parents, and probably some on the part of children, which cause much sadness here and may bring more in the life to come. these sins will retard those who are responsible, in their progress toward salvation and exaltation. Indeed, in some cases of grievous sin, the sinners may forfeit a claim to exaltation.

Bringing souls to God.

In fulfilling the second great obligation that has just been discussed, we are bringing the souls of relatives who are most dear to us toward God. if we cannot exert much influence for good in our own family circles, how can we expect to influence for good those whom we teach the gospel in a more formal way?

Certainly, all who believe in God would agree that the people of the world have a very great need, in the present generation, of being brought to God. When we consider the condition of “civilized” human beings today – the bloodshed and devastation resulting from the recent world wars, the threat to peace found in the disagreement of the great powers, the high degree of efficiency attained in devising means for the destruction of life and property, and the great amount of wickedness prevailing everywhere – we must recognize the extreme need for a spiritual awakening. the principles of pure and undefiled Christianity can save the world, if enough of its inhabitants will live as they should and influence others to do likewise. Men of good will, faith, and science are needed to administer to physical and intellectual needs, to arouse hope in the minds of those who are despairing, and to apply science to the betterment of mankind generally. Consider the following quotations from religious scientists:

For permanent prosperity we must have those spiritual qualities of thrift, efficiency, integrity, faith, inspiration, service, and righteousness; qualities which religion alone can give. The greatest, the most necessary and practical force in the upbuilding of a permanent prosperity is, I say, religion; the spirit of Jesus Christ in the soul of man. [Roger W. Babson, Deseret News, December 1, 1937.]

Science without religion, obviously, may become a curse, rather than a blessing to mankind; but science dominated by the spirit of religion is the key to progress and the hope of the future. [Robert A. Millikan, A Scientist Confesses His Faith.] the most important thing in the world is a belief in moral and spiritual values. Without the moral background of religion, without the spirit of service, which is the essence of religion, our new powers will only be the means of our destruction. [Robert A. Millikan, quoted by C.N. Lund in Deseret News, in article XV of a series entitled “Glimpsing the World Tomorrow.”]

The Latter-day Saints, in common with members of other Christian churches, feel a responsibility for spreading the word of God for the conversion and reformation of mankind. We have not only the Biblical injunctions for teaching the gospel to others; but we have even more pointed injunctions in modern scriptures, placing responsibility upon us individually and collectively. A warning is to be part of the teaching.

The following is an appropriate quotation from a revelation given to Joseph Smith for the guidance of the church in 1831.

And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouth of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.

And they shall go forth and none shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them. [Doc. and Cov. 1:4-5.]

Two other revelations were given respectively in 1829 (about a year before the church was founded) and in 1831.

And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me. [Ibid., 18:15-16.]

For verily, the sound must go forth from this place into all the world, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth – the gospel must be preached unto every creature, with signs following them that believe. [Ibid., 58:64.]

Consider a statement by President Joseph F. Smith as to the mission of the Church:

Our mission is to save, to preserve from evil, to exalt mankind, to bring light and truth into the world, to prevail upon the people of the earth to walk righteously before God, and to honor Him in their lives and with the first fruits of all their substance and increase. [Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 88.]

The emphasis that these quotations give to the necessity and obligation for preaching the gospel accounts for the great missionary system of the church. As early as two months after the organization of the Church, missionaries were called to carry its message to others. Mormon missionaries have been away from their homes declaring the gospel message most of the years since that time. Today we have over five thousand missionaries laboring in forty-five missions in about twenty-four countries of the world. [David O. McKay, “The Church – A World-Wide Institution,” Deseret News, Church Section, Dec. 20, 1947.] The membership of the Church is well over one million. In addition to these regular missionaries, we have “home” missionaries in most of the one hundred seventy-five stakes, who have been called to teach the gospel to their non-member neighbors.

When one who has the true spirit of Christ acquires a great truth, recognizes a thing of surpassing beauty, or comes into possession of a very useful material possession, he is eager to share such things with those whom he loves or highly regards. In a similar way, one who is truly converted to a religion wishes to share with others the advantages of that knowledge, faith, and hope. In fact, such a desire is a good evidence of a genuine conversion.

Redeeming our progenitors.

We have arrived now at the fourth of the great responsibilities of life, to redeem our progenitors. Let us consider the doctrine taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith on this point.

The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead. [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 356. (In the King Follett discourse.)]

Speaking of this ordinance work for the dead, he says:

Those saints who neglect it, in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the period of their own salvation. [Times and Seasons, Vol. 2, pp. 545-5467.]

Just what must be done to discharge this responsibility is well-expressed in the words of a modern theologian and historian:

Our salvation cannot be accomplished unless the fathers and children are joined together, bound, sealed in perfect family order. Husbands must be united by authority to their wives; children to their parents, until there is one grand family, composed of all the faithful from the beginning to the end of time, with Adam, our progenitor, standing in his calling as the father of us all. [Joseph Fielding Smith, Handbook of Genealogy {illegible}.]

But what of the idea of seeking after our dead being “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us?” Certainly, of the four responsibilities named, the most fundamental one is the first – living pure lives as individuals. One would not get far in carrying out the other three duties without strict morality – whether the term morality be interpreted in a broad or a narrow sense. In a similar way, it is probably true that any one of these duties is not likely to be done, or done most effectively, until the preceding one is carried out. One is not likely to be interested in redeeming his progenitors unless he has shown some interest in teaching the gospel to others, whether by precept or by example. These four activities, then form a series, which increase in magnitude and complexity and in requirements for success as one progresses from first to last.

Note that the last duty is made to apply to us as Latter-day Saints; it is our dead and the responsibility is laid upon us. this exhortation, then, is probably intended for members of His church who are pretty well carrying out the preceding responsibilities. For such persons, their greatest responsibility is to do this additional thing. apparently this would not be true for everyone, for the more fundamental duties – these that would prepare one for the last – would need to be carried out first.

Perhaps this phase of our responsibility will be sufficiently discussed if a summary is now given of what has previously been said that has a direct bearing upon it.

1. We are dependent upon our relatives and they are dependent upon us for the most exalted salvation.

2. Although we may attain a degree of salvation individually – without recognized family ties in the world to come – exaltation with its marvelous possibilities for advancement and glory is reserved for those willing to meet additional requirements. [See discussion of salvation in chapter IV.]

3. These saving ordinances for the dead can be supplied only through the living.

4. The authority for doing the necessary ordinance work to help redeem them (and through them, ourselves) is now upon the earth.

5. The first step in the redemption is identification of those whom we wish to serve; that is accomplished through genealogical research.

6. Research makes it necessary to keep records. The records make identification possible at all times, give the necessary information for performing the ordinances, and furnish a basis for a record of the ordinance after it is done.

7. Undoubtedly, many who have accepted the gospel in the spirit world are anxiously waiting for their ordinance work to be done.

C. Vicarious work for the Dead

Opportunity in the spirit world.

Mormonism offers hope in the world to come to those who did not hear the gospel in mortality, or who did not have the message presented to them in any adequate way. The proportion of those who have lived upon the earth that have missed this privilege is very great indeed. We regard the ordinances of the gospel as of such nature that they must be performed upon our mortal bodies. But what is to be done for those who are no longer in mortality? As previously explained, the ordinances may be performed by proxy for them. Are they to be condemned or to be handicapped because, through no fault of their own, they did not hear an adequate presentation of the message in this life? Undoubtedly many of the finest people who had no such opportunity would have accepted the message if they had heard it in mortality. A chance will be given them in the life to come. What other religious system offers such hope for an overwhelming proportion of our Father’s children? Otherwise how could our Heavenly Father be just and impartial?

Those who have had the opportunity of presenting the gospel as part of their special responsibility may ask themselves this question: What proportion of those to whom I have presented the gospel have received an adequate idea of its meaning and importance? In most cases the proportion must be small indeed, perhaps because the way of presentation was inadequate. Should they be surprised, then, that the person did not apply for baptism? Or are they to blame for not accepting the message.

Preaching the gospel in the world of spirits.

Justice will thus demand that those who have not properly understood the gospel be given an opportunity for a fuller and more satisfactory exposition of the message of salvation. this is provided for in the gospel plan. Recall the words of Paul to the Corinthian Saints:

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.)

Although this is the only passage in the Bible that mentions baptism for dead persons, it is strong evidence that that doctrine was rather generally understood and practiced in the primitive church. Note that the apostle Paul was arguing for a belief in the resurrection by using as a starting point the current belief in baptism for the dead; as much as to say: “What reason is there to be baptized for the dead, if there is to be no resurrection?” Further confirmation of this interpretation is found in the following references to preaching to the spirits in prison.

Who initiated the work of preaching to the spirits in prison? Why were the spirits to whom He spoke?

For Christ … 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 longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah … (I Peter 3:18-20.)

For, for this cause, was the gospel preached also to them that area dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (Ibid., 4:6.)

Has the peaching in the spirit world been continued since our Savior began that activity? Read the testimony of modern prophets on this point.

The good and bad, the righteous and unrighteous must go to the house of prison, or paradise, and Jesus went and opened the doors of salvation to them. And unless they lost the keys of salvation on account of transgression, as has been the case on this earth, spirits clothed with the priesthood have ministered unto them from that day to this. … They (the departed brethren who held the priesthood) can see us, but we cannot see them, unless our eyes were opened. what are they doing there? They are preaching, preaching all the time, and preparing the way for us to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere. [Brigham Young, The Contributor, Vol. 10, pp. 321-322 (July, 1889).]

The deliverance for these spirits was not unexpected or unappreciated, as the words of Joseph F. Smith indicate:

I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. … 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. they were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. [Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, pp. 597-598.]

Thus, one does not lose his chance to hear and accept the gospel when he departs from this life, though he may have lost his chance for exaltation. Only God knows how much people who heard the message and who rejected it are to be condemned. The mercy and justice of our heavenly father are enjoyed by His children in the spirit world. Why should the gospel be preached to the disembodied spirits if there were no opportunity given them to repent and progress toward perfection?

Their privilege to accept or reject work done for them.

What of the temple work that is done on earth for the departed spirits? How could a baptism by someone else in mortality be to the advantage of a dead person? The work is done “for and in his behalf.” Christ suffered vicariously for all who are descended from Father Adam, the whole human race. In some way which it is difficult for us to understand, He took upon himself the sins of the world, satisfied the demands of justice (occasioned by the fall of our first parents), and freed us from the original sin. that sacrifice for us is effective if we accept it in our behalf. This is an illustration of vicarious work that all Christians accept, or profess to accept, as real and effective.

Similarly, our ordinances for the dead may be accepted by the souls in the spirit world, if and when they hear and accept the gospel message as it is preached to them. When they have accepted the gospel plan, they are probably eager to accept this vicarious work, done for and in their behalf by their relatives or friends in mortality. If the declaration of the gospel has been going on since it was introduced to the spirits by the Savior, may we not believe that many are anxiously waiting for these ordinances to be performed for them? some faith-promoting incidents indicate this to be true.

Then what shall we do?

What should we as latter-day Saints do to discharge this responsibility to help those who have accepted or who will accept the gospel in the spirit world? Those converted, waiting souls are at our mercy. they cannot do this work themselves; they must depend upon us who still can perform, or have performed, these saving ordinances. The preceding quotations under the title “Redeeming Our Progenitors” give the answer to this question. The third quotation there is especially pertinent. The following is also from a discourse of President Joseph F. Smith:

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, and light will 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. [Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 593.]

President Wilford Woodruff tells in simple and direct language just what we need to do:

we want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. … This is the will of the Lord to his people. [Wilford Woodruff, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Vol. 13, pp. 148-149, (Oct., 1922).]

What happened as the immediate result of this revelation to President woodruff will be developed in the chapter on the Genealogical society of the L.D.S. Church.

The present chapter has included a discussion of our responsibility to one another and especially to our relatives, whether living or dead. Each of the four great responsibilities of Latter-day Saints has been considered, with emphasis on our greatest one. Vicarious work for the dead has been treated, with a very definite statement as to what should be done about it.

1950: The Principles and Practice of Genealogy, by Joseph Sudweeks
Course of Study for the Sunday Schools

Lesson 37: Temple Service


As you enter His House, softly close the door
Upon a realm of selfish haste.
Loose the sandals of a warring world
And open thy heart to peace.
Bathe thy soul in calm reverence;
Be cleansed from doubt and envy.
You are His guest.

He bids you welcome to a sanctuary
Of a righteous cause made perfect
By His acceptance.
Unfolded to you is the drama of existence,
The mystery of life, the grandeur of death
Unto greater life, complete companionship,
the enthronement of perfect law.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Go forth again, bearing more firmly,
More kindly, the torch of truth to
A groping world, remembering –
You have been, and yet again
Will wish to be his Guest.

(Orson Rega Card, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Vol. XIX 91928), p. 151. Quoted in Book of Remembrance, p. 87.

A. Characteristics of Temple Service

Service in the temples is rendered by people doing several kinds of work. There are the administrative officers, those who provide names to use in the ordinances, those who keep records of ordinances, those who officiate, those who act as proxies, those who maintain the plant, etc. Few of these workers are full-time paid employees. Many leave their work at scheduled times and come for an hour or more in their spare time. They come to serve because of their love for the work or because of the importance they attach to it. This voluntary service of a large number of persons required to keep the temples busy is an eloquent testimonial of faith in the gospel and in the efficacy of the ordinance work. Some aged workers have served faithfully for many years and have hardly missed an appointment during that time.


Recommends, signed by two church officials, are required of all who enter a Latter-day Saint Temple for service there. They are signed by the bishop of the ward in which the person has membership and by the president of the stake in which the ward is located. Saints from the missions bring recommends signed by presidents of branches and missions. Instructions concerning recommends are published for the use of those who give and sign recommends. [Handbook of Instructions for Stake Presidencies, Bishops and counselors, Stake and Ward Clerks and Other church officers (No. 17, 1944 – reprint, 1948 – ) pp. 63-68.]

Preparation, conduct.

Those who are going to the temple for the first time – those who are going to be baptized for the dead, those going for their own endowments or to be endowed for others [sic], or those going to be sealed or married – should be properly prepared and instructed in regard to their work and conduct. A realization that the work is carried out in a house of the Lord – a holy place where was dedicated to him for the performance of sacred ordinances – should help those who work there to conduct themselves properly. Young people, especially, who come in groups for baptism should be given instructions by their supervisors regarding the sacred nature of the work and the kind of conduct befitting those who enter the Lord’s House.

There should be no boisterous or unnecessary conversation, no running about, no quarreling, no unkind acts or words, no discourtesy. Worry should also be avoided. the atmosphere should be such as to stimulate restfulness, confidence, and contemplation. this is an appropriate place to pray, to receive inspiration, and to give serious consideration to important things of life.

Opportunities for Service.

Much has been said in previous chapters of the importance of saving ordinances performed for the dead. What more glorious work may anyone perform than to do for others what they cannot do for themselves, especially if such work promotes their eternal happiness? Speaking of this work for those who have passed on, a former president of the Church said:

We should avail ourselves of those sacred and potent ordinances of the gospel which have been revealed as essential to 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 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. (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 593 (previously quoted).

Opportunities for the Older People.

The endowment and sealing ordinances for the departed cannot well be done by the youth (adolescents) of the Church. therefore it is especially appropriate for persons of middle life or beyond to perform this service.

A Glorious Mission for the Aged. Temple service gives hope to thousands of people … for this opportunity which comes to them in the House of the Lord. Many are aged and unable to perform manual labor by reason of their feeble condition. These can occupy their time profitably in behalf of those who cannot perform ordinance work for themselves, being dead. Aged people are thus able to prolong their lives, enhance their usefulness, and enrich their souls by being able to fulfill this obligation. Many have testified that, if it had not been for temple work, life for them would have been scarcely worth living . … This labor gave them something to look forward to, and hope came into their lives such as could not have come under other conditions. (Joseph Christenson, Our Lineage, Lesson 38, p. 19.)

No matter how old a person gets, how dim the eye or how much the limbs have lost their suppleness, there is a joy of life and satisfaction and cheerfulness awaiting him if he has lived worthy and can move on towards the sunset of life engaged in this glorious mission that is unequaled. (James M. Kirkham, Ibid., lesson 38, p. 20.)

Opportunities for the Youth. It used to be said that temple work was for the aged only, that young folks had other things to do … but conditions have changed and a different point of view has come. Now young people come to the temple almost as frequently as those who are aged. when they get the spirit of the work they are in constant attendance in the House of the Lord. it requires only a few visits for them to catch the spirit of temple service. Thereafter they need no urging, but are always willing to go and to sacrifice all that is necessary for this beloved work. (Joseph Christenson, Ibid., Lesson 39, p. 20.)

On days and hours specified for baptisms for the dead, boys and girls come ing roups to the temples, accompanied by their supervisors. They are so eager to act as proxies in this ordinance that they come long distances, and in some temple districts appointments are made months in advance.

Understanding the Gospel.

The endowment ceremony was defined as a course of instruction. attention was called to the fact that principles of learning are used in the teaching process and that signs and symbols are used to impress the principles taught. This idea is further explained in the following quotation:

Temple services, then, are richly symbolic in their nature. Through typical representations God reveals to us, step by step, the majesty of His work, His love of us, His mercy and justice, the power and beauties of His laws, and the exaltation, peace, and supreme joy He desires that we shall attain with Him eternally. The temple ceremony is the revelation of God for the perfection of man. Those symbols included in it comprehend the eternal exaltation of man and by reason thereof cannot and will not be fully understood until that celestial condition shall have been fully attained. The soul must be brought in tune with the spirit which revealed those mighty symbols in order to interpret their meaning. If a person is prepared – attuned – there is always something new to be learned about them that thrills and uplifts the soul. (Power from on High, pp. 47-48.)

Every time that a person receives the temple endowment for another, he reviews the eternal journey of man, is reminded of the condition of eternal progress and of his own promises to obey God’s law, is impressed anew with the necessity of making truth alive by use, and sees again the glorious destiny of a righteous man. His memory is refreshed, his conscience warmed, his hopes lifted heavenward. Temple repetition is the mother of daily blessings. (“Blessings from Temples,” a lesson from the 1941 Course of Study for the Sunday Schools, Genealogy class, p. 1.)

Courage and inspiration.

Courage and inspiration should come to those who engage in these ordinances when such expressions as the following are heard from visitors who learn something of the advantages that come from temple service:

A party of tourists were being shown through the grounds and buildings on the Temple Block in Salt Lake city. The guide, who had given his time and effort freely and happily, explained the meanings of the statues, the friezes and the buildings. The group seemed extremely attentive and interested. As they went over alongside the Temple the guide explained as best he could what the work was that went on inside the sacred building and told them why it was that they were not permitted to visit the inside of the building. As the explanation was finished a well-dressed man of apparent high intelligence exclaimed, “I understand now my feelings. Since the moment I entered these grounds a feeling has enveloped me that is almost too wonderful to describe. I seemed to forget certain cares that had been worrying me all morning, the world seems brighter and life more worthwhile. When you explain the sacrifices that the Mormons have made and are making for their religion, how they conquered this region and made of it a fit place to live in, and how they strive to teach the Gospel to all the people of the world through an elaborate missionary system, and besides all that they can build these glorious temples where attention is given to the saving of your departed ancestors, it somehow gives me a greater confidence and faith in human beings than I have had for many years. I wish every person in the world could visit this place and learn some of the ideals you people stand for; it would help establish a feeling of brotherhood and peace that would influence the world.” (Ibid., p. 3.)

Space forbids the inclusion of other quotations of a similar nature. Among the large number of tourists that visit Temple Square every year, many express themselves as being favorably impressed and inspired.

Protection and promises.

In the description of the endowment in the previous chapter, the obligation assumed and the blessings promised are referred to. Many Latter-day Saints can testify that these promises have been fulfilled in their lives. Temple ordinances are not the only ones in which blessings are promised, depending upon righteous living for their fulfillment. Among others may be mentioned patriarchal blessings – especially outstanding in this respect – the sacrament, administration to the sick, and setting apart.

Spiritual power.

This advantage from service in temples is well told in the following quotation:

The principle of salvation for the dead is one of the most effective in tempering human character, in making men unselfish, and in enabling them to walk in the paths laid out for mankind by the Savior. … With respect to gospel principles, perhaps none is more important in developing spiritual power and strength than that which pertains to salvation for the dead. I feel assured in my own heart, from my own experience and the experience of my friends, that those who give themselves in wisdom and with propriety to this work will round out their spiritual experiences, enrich their lives, and find a new and abiding joy in all duties pertaining to life under the gospel of Jesus Christ. (John A. Widtsoe, quoted in Our Lineage, Lesson 40, p. 23.)

spiritual power enables one to overcome temptation, to be valiant in the battle of life, to appreciate the opportunities of life and the gospel, and to influence the lives of others for good.

In this discussion of characteristics of temple service, some of the advantages or blessings from such work have been pointed out. this is not an attempt to enumerate all the advantages. Those named might be considered the by-products. The greatest advantages come to those for whom the work is done; and a rather full discussion of this value has already been given.

B. Instructions Concerning Temple Service

A few of the most important items of information which a person needs to know before he goes to temples for ordinance work are given here. Much more detailed information may be needed. Such additional information may be obtained form the bishop who issues the recommend or from The Handbook of Instructions, or from a qualified person who is experienced in temple work. Technical questions, such as some of those relating to sealings, are best submitted to temple presidencies. Some involved and difficult questions on this subject arise at times.

Temple recommends are required for not only those who go to a temple to take part in ordinance work, but also for those who go to witness baptisms for the dead and marriages. They are also necessary for those who are taken on a tour through a temple.

Each temple has its own schedule for the year, giving dates of opening and closing for the summer vacation, dates of closing for holidays, and related information. Each institution has its schedule for baptisms for the dead, endowment sessions, and sealing arrangements. The number of sessions for the day or the week depends on the demand for service in each temple district. Endowments for the living may be limited to certain of the daily sessions; and since this ordinance must precede temple marriage, many people planning a marriage to last after this life need to be informed on these details.

The special clothing, in the correct sizes, required for baptism, endowment, and sealings can usually be rented in the temple. It is recommended that people who frequently have need of the clothing furnish their own.

Since records or ”names” are required before any temple ordinances can be carried out, it is important that plans to supply the necessary information be made in advance so that a time can be set for the ordinance.

The modern recommend provides space for giving necessary information for one going for his own endowment, marriage, and sealing to parents.

No person who is living can be represented by proxy in any ordinance; and, as before stated, no ordinance performed for a deceased person is of force unless and until it is accepted by him in the spirit world.

Temple marriages, as those performed elsewhere, require marriage licenses. They should be obtained from a county clerk in the state where the marriage is to be solemnized. Since some states require premarital examinations for licenses, one should take this requirement into account.

Adoption of children. Living children should be adopted through legal proceedings of an established court before being sealed to parents by Temple ceremony. This rule applies irrespective of age. Parents who desire to adopt children should indicate a willingness to make the adopted children heirs to property on a par with their natural children. Legal adoption papers should be shown to the temple presidency at the time the request for adoption of children is made. (Handbook of Instructions, p. 132.)

Serological tests. Some states require the passing of a serological test by couples to obtain marriage licenses. Utah is such a state. The question of whether persons from other states, who do not submit to the test because it is not required, can be married in temples in Utah without passing the test, is definitely answered in the following ruling by the First Presidency:

In order to avoid serological tests, some couples are civilly married in a state not requiring serological tests and then immediately apply for recommends to one of the temples in Utah for sealing. … Therefore couples who have been married civilly since the Utah statute went into effect, February 28, 1941, are not admitted to the temple to be sealed without their first having passed their serological test. Bishops will not issue recommends to any such couples to be sealed in the temple until they have complied with the requirements of the law and present the necessary certificates. (Deseret news, Church News Section, September 29, 1948, p. 24C.)



  1. Hello brothers and sisters.
    WOW! I sit here doing my family history crying in happiness and sadness both at the same time. This article is so important for us all. Its so important to see that the work is done for all those who have gone before us> I know that God has blessed me with the opportunity to be able to do this for my ancestors.
    The article is great and I learned very much from it. I will be sharing this with those in our ward and the importance to doing our family history

    Comment by Shirley Faulkenbury — October 22, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

  2. Shirley, I’m glad you found the article helpful — family history and temple work is very close to my heart, too.

    Be sure you’re aware that this is a Mormon *history* blog and that these lessons were written many decades ago. While the spirit and principles are the same, some of the policies have changed. Be sure if you share this article that everybody understands that there may be some differences in the current rules for doing temple work. Cheers!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 22, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

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