Joseph Smith first shared the doctrine of baptism for the dead with the Saints at a funeral (Seymour Brunson's) in August 1840 and then had expounded on it in various revelations during 1841-42 due to some early procedural issues (recording of baptisms and not in temple font and women being baptized for men and vice versa). One of those revelations was written in a letter to the Saints on September 6 1842 and is now what we call Section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
As you read through this section you will see he certainly clarifies specific points of procedure but more importantly, today, try to feel what Joseph Smith is feeling as he writes this letter, as he declares this doctrine and as he tries to impress upon the Saints how it completes everything in the gospel plan.
v.1 Joseph explains that the subject of baptism for the dead "seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest,..." He is being prompted by the Spirit. Do we recognize and follow such promptings in our personal lives?
v.2-4 Joseph clarifies the necessity of recording the baptisms and the process of recording these baptisms in unison with the Law of Witnesses. In Section 124 he also clarifies the need for these baptisms to be done in the temple and in a font built specifically for these baptisms.
v.5-11 Joseph bears testimony of the principle of recording the baptisms and its part in the great Eternal Plan. He also bears testimony of the sealing power of the priesthood wherein what is bound on earth is bound in heaven.
v.12-14 Joseph explains the symbolism of the baptism and baptism font. Note: in verse 12, talking of the ordinance of baptism for the living, Joseph says "..hence this ordinance was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of baptism for the dead" In other words even baptism of the living by immersion itself points to the doctrine of baptism for the dead. For those that like to ponder the "deep" mysteries, this may invoke a study of chicken and egg proportions - which came first in the great Eternal Plan, baptism for the dead or baptism for the living?
15 "these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation...they without us cannot be made perfect - neither can we without our dead be made perfect."How important is this work? Teamwork; We are eternally linked to our ancestors, our family. We cannot be saved without saving others. Our salvation rests upon whether we become saviours to others.
Verse 17 "this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel" and repeats a scripture that Moroni first spoke to Joseph 21st Sept 1823. Remember he visited Joseph with the same message and same scriptures, 3 times that night.
“It is tremendously significant to me that…this repetition of the wondrous words of Malachi concerning the work for the dead, was given to the boy Joseph four years before he was allowed to take the plates from the hill. It was given before he received either the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood, before he was baptized, and well before the Church was organized. It says much concerning the priority of this work in the plan of the Lord”Gordon B Hinckley
18 "for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times...that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations and keys and powers and glories should take place and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time"
How important is this work? "welding together of dispensations and powers..." and people! This is not just about us and our generation. This gospel was not restored for just us. It was restored for everyone living and the dead. Hence Joseph Smith being quoted Malachi right from the very beginning.
It has been suggested that there have been anywhere from 70 to 110 billion people on the earth since Adam. We have just 7 billion on the earth today. What does that say about the importance of this doctrine to a loving Heavenly Father?
v19-21 What do we hear? Let those that have ears, let them hear? It's almost as if Joseph is asking the Saints if they get it? Do you get the significance of this doctrine? Do you get how important, in the grand scheme, this doctrine is?
i) voice of gladness (gospel plan in general), voice of mercy from heaven (atonement and baptism for dead), voice of truth out of the earth (Book of Mormon and missionary work for living), voice of gladness for living and dead (gospel is for all!)
see also other voices and what they revealed in bringing this plan together in the fulness of times.
v.22 ordained from the very beginning. Not just an afterthought but He "ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison;"
"...For the prisoners shall go free."
1. Who are these prisoners?
2. Why are they prisoners?
3. Who/What is holding them prisoner?
4. Who/What shall free them?
1. Who are these prisoners? They are those that have already died before us. In Spirit Prison
2. Why are they prisoners? "...those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets." D&C 138:32 Two categories: those that had been sinful but not had a knowledge (ignorant in sin) and those had transgressed and rejected the prophets message. (honorable men but blinded by men) D&C 76:72-75
3. Who/What is holding them prisoner? In short, justice. Like any prisoner they are held captive due to a law being broken and justice demands its prisoner. Moses 7:38 The Lord prepared the prison to satisfy the temporary demands of justice but has prepared a plan that through the Law of Mercy will allow the prisoners to go free upon certain conditions.
4. Who/What shall free them? We shall. "that which would enable US to redeem them" In essence the Lord in giving us the priesthood, in giving us temples and in revealing the doctrine and ordinance of baptism for the dead has given us the key. Either we use it and let them out...or we explain why we did not let the prisoners go free.
“In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made certain agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan, conceived by him. We accepted it. Since the plan is intended for all men, we become parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves, but…saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work. The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation”
Elder John A Widtsoe, 1934What an incredible, amazing complete plan. How merciful is the Lord when you see this as it all fits together here in this final dispensation?
v.23 "...how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven..." This whole verse is like a song of praise. This is a little off topic but there is a great talk by Spencer W. Kimball entitled "What do we hear?" Click on it to listen or read it.
I don't know about you but this letter from Joseph and this talk by Spencer W Kimball seem to invoke a very similar spirit of praise and rejoicing. Tell me what you thought?
24 "Let us therefore, as a church and a people and as Latter Day Saints...present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation"Would it not be awful to be there and have empty pages where we should have had entries?
Finally, remember the funeral where Joseph Smith chose to first declare this restored doctrine? Seymour Brunson was a well-loved, and respected man among the Saints. Heber C Kimball wrote of Bro. Brunson's funeral later in a letter to John Taylor, that:
"the procession that went to his (Seymour Brunson's) grave was judged to be a mile long and a more joyful season Vitale Kimball (Hebers wife) says she never saw before on account of the glory that Joseph set forth."
Think of that - all these mourners turned from grief to joy because of the doctrine of salvation for the dead. Now consider all the prisoners who have filled the prison since the world began (an estimated 60 million at least) and how they each and all felt when they first heard this doctrine and then when they first saw a descendant be baptized and become temple worthy. And then consider how they felt as the temple and this ordinance became more easily accessible across the world as more and more temples have been built and continue to be announced.
This is a great work and it is only just beginning.