D&C Section 128

As with the previous section, this is one of the letters from the prophet, Joseph Smith, to the saints in Nauvoo, Illinois. He also wrote it in September of 1842, while he was in hiding due to threats against his life. The previous letter (section 127) told that more information would come to them regarding baptisms for the dead.


First let me start off on this, by saying that I fully believe in performing sacred ordinances, such as baptisms, for those who have died. This ordinance is not new to the world in this dispensation, it was around anciently. It is my understanding, however, that the LDS church is the only church to believe and practice it today. We are the one church, which has the proper authority to do so. This church offers the opportunity for us to save all the souls who have come before us and did not know of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This section begins as follows:

1 As I stated to you in my letter before I left my place, that I would write to you from time to time and give you information in relation to many subjects, I now resume the subject of the baptism for the dead, as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies.
2 I wrote a few words of revelation to you concerning a recorder. I have had a few additional views in relation to this matter, which I now certify. That is, it was declared in my former letter that there should be a recorder, who should be eye-witness, and also to hear with his ears, that he might make a record of a truth before the Lord.
3 Now, in relation to this matter, it would be very difficult for one recorder to be present at all times, and to do all the business. To obviate this difficulty, there can be a recorder appointed in each ward of the city, who is well qualified for taking accurate minutes; and let him be very particular and precise in taking the whole proceedings, certifying in his record that he saw with his eyes, and heard with his ears, giving the date, and names, and so forth, and the history of the whole transaction; naming also some three individuals that are present, if there be any present, who can at any time when called upon certify to the same, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
4 Then, let there be a general recorder, to whom these other records can be handed, being attended with certificates over their own signatures, certifying that the record they have made is true. Then the general church recorder can enter the record on the general church book, with the certificates and all the attending witnesses, with his own statement that he verily believes the above statement and records to be true, from his knowledge of the general character and appointment of those men by the church. And when this is done on the general church book, the record shall be just as holy, and shall answer the ordinance just the same as if he had seen with his eyes and heard with his ears, and made a record of the same on the general church book.
5 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.

It makes sense to me, that we have important, eternal ordinances recorded. We should record them personally, as well as having them recorded in the church. I think that currently, the ward clerks are some of the recorders of these things. They are not always present for ordinances, but they have the witnesses who have certified that they saw and verified these things being doing in their proper order, so they can then record that they were done. There are many temples now, so there are recorders in the temple for the ordinances that are performed there as well. Many of the ordinances that were performed with the early saints, had to be performed again because they were not recorded properly. Our records are part of what makes our ordinances acceptable to the Lord. This is a great responsibility that I know is in line with the will of God.

6 And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead, when he declared, as you will find recorded in Revelation 20:12—And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
7 You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.
8 Now, the nature of this ordinance consists in the power of the priesthood, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Or, in other words, taking a different view of the translation, whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven; 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, according to the records which they have kept concerning their dead.
9 It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?

Here, the prophet gives an explanation of what is meant by the words of John. There is a record to be kept on earth, which we will be judged by. There is also a record in heaven. The records of the things we do on earth is very important to our reward in heaven. The prophet clarifies here that if it is not recorded on earth, it will not be recorded in heaven. The act of recording our ordinances, binds them so that they will be known for eternity. This gives me a greater sense of the value of family history work and all the records that the church has gathered together. These records that tell the ordinances of our loved ones who have died, will be part of what will be used to judge them. If they would have accepted these ordinances in their own life, had they had the opportunity, they will have the opportunity once we have done the physical ordinances for them. Our service in this is very important to the salvation of all the souls who have ever lived.

10 And again, for the precedent, Matthew 16:18, 19: And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
11 Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter, and the summum bonum of the whole subject that is lying before us, consists in obtaining the powers of the Holy Priesthood. For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living.
12 Herein is glory and honor, and immortality and eternal life—The ordinance of baptism by water, to be immersed therein in order to answer to the likeness of the dead, that one principle might accord with the other; to be immersed in the water and come forth out of 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 likeness of the dead.
13 Consequently, the baptismal font was instituted as a similitude 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, as Paul hath declared, 1 Corinthians 15:46, 47, and 48:
14 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as are the records on the earth in relation to your dead, which are truly made out, so also are the records in heaven. This, therefore, is the sealing and binding power, and, in one sense of the word, the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge.

The principle that things can be bound both on earth and in heaven through the priesthood power, is repeated throughout the scriptures. I know that this is a true principle of the gospel and I have hope in the eternal blessings of the sealing power. I was interested in the phrase he uses here, “summum bonum of the whole subject” and what he meant by it. The phrase is defined as, “the supreme good in which all moral values are included or from which they are derived.” If I understand it correctly, the prophet was saying that all values are created from the priesthood power, which allows men to have a knowledge of the plan of salvation and the works for the dead. With the priesthood we learn the facts of the gospel principles. I think that this pertains mainly to the overwhelming amount of knowledge that can be gained in the temple of the Lord, which is only available to us because of the priesthood. I know that the priesthood is the power that will save us all. Without it, the sealing ordinances cannot be performed and none of us will be able to to escape from the suffering of hell, no matter how good we lived our lives.

The baptism is likened to the resurrection, and the font of baptism is likened to the grave that the dead will rise from at the time of the second coming. In my study, I read that the baptismal fonts in the temples are purposely placed below ground level to represent the grave and those who are dead, being raised from the grave. I think that with this in mind, the next time I perform baptisms for those who have died, I will imagine them being resurrected and rising out of the grave to eternal life. This is a very powerful image in my mind of a wondrous miracle that I look forward to witnessing. Our own baptisms should also remind us of being buried and rising into a new life committed to the work of the Lord. Such a beautiful ordinance that was established by God, for us to make sacred covenants with Him.

15 And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that 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, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.
16 And now, in relation to the baptism for the dead, I will give you another quotation of Paul, 1 Corinthians 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?
17 And again, in connection with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the prophets, who had his eye fixed on the restoration of the priesthood, the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial manner this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel, namely, the baptism for the dead; for Malachi says, last chapter, verses 5th and 6th: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

A Family Tree

The prophet teaches us here, that our eternal destiny depends upon the salvation of our ancestors. I’m not sure that I have a real understanding of why that is, but I know that without our work here, they cannot be saved, so I understand that there is a literal and eternal connection needed between us and our ancestors. Joseph also teaches us that the work for the dead is the “most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel”. In particular baptism for the dead, allows the atonement to save those who choose to accept Christ after they have died. Without this, these souls would be lost in hell for eternity. The prophet also reminds us that Malachi said that unless the power to do this work was restored, the earth would be smitten with a curse. I believe that this is to say that the whole purpose of the earth in its mortal state, would have been wasted and the eternal bonds of families would never have been made. The earth is meant to be renewed into the state where those who inherit the celestial kingdom would gain their inheritance. If no one was able to be sealed to spouses, children, parents and so on, than we would not obtain the celestial glory and therefore the earth would be wasted.

18 I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, 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. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.
19 Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth! As the dews of Carmel, so shall the knowledge of God descend upon them!
20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
21 And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!

If the keys of the sealing power, which make the ordinances in the temple possible, had not been restored, then the prophesies regarding this final dispensation would not come to pass. This great restoration, is the culmination of all that the previous times of the earth and all the former prophets have worked towards. This should bring gladness and joy to the hearts of all mankind who learn of it. I know that I have a great sense of joy in this knowledge. The prophet showed his joy in these verses. I know that the priesthood keys were restored through the prophet Joseph Smith, in this dispensation, and for the purpose of saving all mankind. The prophets and apostles of all the dispensations before, came and passed on all that was needed for us to participate in this saving work. It truly is a time of great joy.

22 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 exceedingly 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.
23 Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!
24 Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.
25 Brethren, I have many things to say to you on the subject; but shall now close for the present, and continue the subject another time. I am, as ever, your humble servant and never deviating friend,

Joseph Smith.

The sons of Levi are referring to all those who are ordained to do work in the temples. The Lord will give them the opportunities to grow and be purified so that they can be worthy to do the work in His holy house. Those of us who are worthy and able to do work in the temples, will be the ones to make the offering that was prophesied. We will offer the records from the temple, which will show the work for the dead has been finished and is worthy of acceptance from God.

The prophet had given all the amazing reasons to do the work that they had been called to do. The work of saving others is the duty of all those who have received the gospel and have made their own covenants with God. We are able to be partners with the Savior, Jesus Christ, who endured the greatest sacrifice that will ever be known to man. I hope that I can be an instrument in the Lord’s hands and also work along with him to help save the worthy and righteous people who are waiting for their chance to receive their rewards.


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About My Scripture Study Buddy

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I love the scriptures, but I am not a scriptorian. I've been told that I'm too "deep" for some, but if you are willing, I'd love to have others join me in my quest for a greater understanding of the gospel. Please feel free to leave me comments and hopefully we can help each other to learn.


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