This series of blog posts will be a collection of quotes from each of the modern-day prophets as they expressed their understanding and testimony concerning our collective obligation to search out our dead, record accurate information about them, and then perform the sacred ordinances of the Temple for them in a dignified and appropriate way.
The first Prophet of the Restoration was the Prophet Joseph Smith. The follow are a selection of quotes from Smith, Joseph, Joseph Fielding Smith, Richard C. Galbraith, and Joseph Smith. Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co, 1993. Page numbers at the end of the quotes are from this book.
I presume the doctrine of “baptism for the dead” has ere this reached your ears, and may have raised some inquiries in your minds respecting the same. I cannot in this letter give you all the information you may desire on the subject; but aside from knowledge independent of the Bible, I would say that it was certainly practiced by the ancient churches; and St. Paul endeavors to prove the doctrine of the resurrection10 from the same, and says, “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 first mentioned the doctrine in public when preaching the funeral sermon of Brother Seymour Brunson and have since then given general instructions in the Church on the subject. The Saints have the privilege of being baptized for those of their relatives who are dead, whom they believe would have embraced the Gospel, if they had been privileged with hearing it, and who have received the Gospel in the spirit, through the instrumentality of those who have been commissioned to preach to them while in prison. Page 179.
This doctrine presents in a clear light the wisdom and mercy of God in preparing an ordinance for the salvation of the dead, being baptized by proxy, their names recorded in heaven and they judged according to the deeds done in the body.This doctrine was the burden of the scriptures. Those Saints who neglect it in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation. The dispensation of the fullness of times will bring to light the things that have been revealed in all former dispensations; also other things that have not been before revealed. He shall send Elijah, the Prophet, &c., and restore all things in Christ. Page 193.There is nothing equivocal in these statements, pursuing the salvation of our dead ancestors in not just something for old people to do in their spare time, it is a basic requirement for our own salvation. Notwithstanding the clarity of these words, it is interesting how lightly this responsibility is taken by many members of the Church.
From the Documentary History of the Church 4:568-569 on 27 March 1842:
This was an interesting day. A large assembly met in the grove near the Temple. Brother Amasa Lyman addressed the people in a very interesting manner. He was followed by Joseph, the Seer, who made some highly edifying and instructive remarks concerning baptism for the dead. He said the Bible supported the doctrine, quoting 1 Cor. 15:29: “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?” If there is one word of the Lord that supports the doctrine of baptism for the dead, it is enough to establish it as a true doctrine. Again; if we can, by the authority of the Priesthood of the Son of God, baptize a man in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, for the remission of sins, it is just as much our privilege to act as an agent, and be baptized for the remission of sins for and in behalf of our dead kindred, who have not heard the Gospel,8 or the fullness of it. Page 201.From a further discourse of Joseph Smith on baptism for the dead:
The situation of the Christian nations after death, is a subject that has called forth all the wisdom and talent of the philosopher and the divine, and it is an opinion which is generally received, that the destiny of man is irretrievably fixed at his death, and that he is made either eternally happy, or eternally miserable;1 that if a man dies without a knowledge of God, he must be eternally damned, without any mitigation of his punishment, alleviation of his pain, or the most latent hope of a deliverance while endless ages shall roll along. However orthodox this principle may be, we shall find that it is at variance with the testimony of Holy Writ, for our Savior says, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men wherewith they shall blaspheme; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come, evidently showing that there are sins which may be forgiven in the world to come, although the sin of blasphemy [against the Holy Ghost] cannot be forgiven. Peter, also, in speaking concerning our Savior, says, that “He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometimes were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3:19, 20). Here then we have an account of our Savior preaching to the spirits in prison, to spirits that had been imprisoned from the days of Noah; and what did He preach to them? That they were to stay there? Certainly not! Let His own declaration testify. “He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight of the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” (Luke 4:18.) Isaiah has it—“To bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness from the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:7.) It is very evident from this that He not only went to preach to them, but to deliver, or bring them out of the prison house. Isaiah, in testifying concerning the calamities that will overtake the inhabitants of the earth, says, “The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall and not rise again. 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.” Thus we find that God will deal with all the human family equally, and that as the antediluvians had their day of visitation, so will those characters referred to by Isaiah, have their time of visitation and deliverance; after having been many days in prison. Page 2018-219.Again from the Documentary History of the Church 5:139-141 recorded on 31 August 1842:
President Smith said, “I have one remark to make respecting the baptism for the dead to suffice for the time being, until I have opportunity to discuss the subject at greater length—all persons baptized for the dead must have a recorder present, that he may be an eyewitness to record and testify of the truth and validity of his record. It will be necessary, in the Grand Council, that these things be testified to by competent witnesses. Therefore let the recording and witnessing of baptisms for the dead be carefully attended to from this time forth. If there is any lack, it may be at the expense of our friends; they may not come forth.” Page 260.I often wonder what the Prophet Joseph Smith would have thought of the duplications of the ordinances due to the poor record keeping of the members of the Church.
It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings, etc. One of the ordinances of the house of the Lord is baptism for the dead. God decreed before the foundation of the world that that ordinance should be administered in a font prepared for that purpose in the house of the Lord. “This is only your opinion, sir,” says the sectarian. * * *Comments made by the Prophet Joseph Smith about the teachings of baptism for the dead as taught in the New Testament:
If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.
Where there is no change of priesthood, there is no change of ordinances, says Paul. If God has not changed the ordinances and the priesthood, howl, ye sectarians! If he has, when and where has He revealed it? Have ye turned revelators? Then why deny revelation? Page 308.
The doctrine of baptism for the dead is clearly shown in the New Testament; and if the doctrine is not good, then throw the New Testament away; but if it is the word of God, then let the doctrine be acknowledged; and it was the reason why Jesus said unto the Jews, “How oft would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”—that they might attend to the ordinances of baptism for the dead as well as other ordinances of the priesthood, and receive revelations from heaven, and be perfected in the things of the kingdom of God—but they would not. This was the case on the day of Pentecost: those blessings were poured out on the disciples on that occasion. God ordained that He would save the dead, and would do it by gathering His people together. Page 310.