“The Prisoners Shall Go Free”
Lesson 30 – D&C 2; 124:25-55; 127; 128; Joseph Smith—History 1:36-39
The Prophet Joseph Smith said of his oldest brother, Alvin: “He was…one of the noblest of my father’s family. He was one of the noblest of the sons of men…In him there was no guile…He was one of the soberest of men, and when he died the angel of the Lord visited him in his last moments” (History of the Church, 5:126-27). Alvin died some five years before the restoration of the priesthood, but he had accepted Joseph’s testimony of the First Vision. Since his death, the gospel restoration has made available the saving ordinances as part of the fullness of the gospel. Because we can function as proxies for deceased family members, we can provide the temple ordinances for all those who were unable to receive those saving ordinances in their mortal lifetime.
The Lord revealed the doctrine of priesthood ordinances for the dead
All people must have the opportunity to hear the gospel message and receive the saving ordinances administered by the priesthood. If that opportunity was not available in mortality, it will be extended in the spirit world. Since these ordinances require a mortal body, and spirits in the spirit world are separated from theirs, we act as proxies serving “for and in behalf” of the dead who are receiving these ordinances. The deceased may then accept or reject the ordinance in accordance with the principle of free agency.
President Gordon B. Hinckley commented on the teachings that the Prophet Joseph Smith received from the Lord: “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” (Ensign, Mar. 1995, 61).
On 15 August 1840, the Prophet preached at Seymour Brunson’s funeral. As part of his sermon, he quoted extensively from 1 Corinthians 15, in which verse 29 refers to baptism for the dead. He followed this scripture with an announcement that members could be baptized for their family members or friends who had died without receiving the gospel. The Prophet further assured the Saints that the plan of salvation offered the opportunity to save anyone who was willing to obey God’s law and accept the gospel covenants. Later, the nearby Mississippi River became the site of the baptisms for the dead until a proper site could be prepared in a house of the Lord. (See the Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 15 Aug. 1840)
The Lord commanded the Saints to build a temple in Nauvoo
In D&C 124:25-27, several months after baptisms for the dead began to be performed in the river, the Lord commanded the Saints to build a temple in Nauvoo. Reasons for constructing a temple included:
· D&C 124:28, 40-41 – additional priesthood ordinances would be revealed
· D&C 124:29-30, 33 – a font for baptizing the dead would be provided
· D&C 124:55 – An opportunity for the Saints to prove their faithfulness (which would allow the Lord to bless them with honor, immortality, and eternal life)
The Nauvoo temple was the second temple in this dispensation and as such, was designed for ordinances that were not performed in the Kirtland Temple such as baptisms and confirmations for the dead, the endowment, and temple marriage.
After great sacrifices by the Saints to build the temple and obey the Lord, the temple was built in Nauvoo. See “The Nauvoo Temple”, Our Heritage, pgs 58-60.
For a short time, baptisms for the dead continued to be performed in the Mississippi, but in October 1841, the Prophet gave instructions that the practice should cease “…until the ordinance can be attended to in the Lord’s House” (History of the Church, 4:426). The baptisms quickly resumed after a temporary but carefully crafted wooden baptismal font was dedicated in the unfinished temple’s basement by Brigham Young on 8 November 1841. Today all ordinances for the dead must be performed in temples. We should give serious thought to the determination and priority demonstrated by the anxious efforts of the early Saints to prepare a place where they might redeem their dead.
In the summer of 1842, a group of men were seeking to unjustly imprison the Prophet. Because of this persecution, Joseph left Nauvoo, saying, “I have thought it expedient and wisdom for me to leave the place for a season, for my own safety and the safety of this people” (D&C 127:1). In spite of difficult circumstances, he wrote joyful words in letters to the Saints. In D&C 128:1 we find that the subject of baptism for the dead was very much on the Prophet’s mind during this time.
D&C 127:5-9; 128:1-9 record the Lord’s command to the Saints to keep careful records of baptisms for the dead. D&C 128:6-8, 24 - When the Savior returns in the Second Coming, those very records will be presented to Him and the dead will be judged from these books.