3 October 1841 (Sunday Morning). Meeting Ground.

Times and Seasons 2 (15 October 1841): 577-78 [1]

Sunday 3rd, A. M. Conference assembled and was called to order by President Marks, [2] and divine service commenced by the choir singing Hymn 274, [3] and prayer by Br. H. C. Kimball. [4]

President Joseph Smith, by request of some of the Twelve, gave instructions on the doctrine of Baptism for the Dead; which was listened to with intense interest by the large assembly. The speaker presented "Baptism for the Dead" as the only way that men can appear as saviors on mount Zion. [5] The proclamation of the first principles of the gospel was a means of salvation to men individually, and it was the truth, [6] not men that saved them; but men, by actively engaging in rites of salvation substitutionally, became instrumental in bringing multitudes of their kin into the kingdom of God. He explained a difference between an angel and a ministering spirit; the one a resurrected or translated body, [7] with its spirit, ministering to embodied spirits—the other a disembodied spirit, visiting and ministering to disembodied spirits. Jesus Christ became a ministering spirit, while his body laying in the sepulchre, to the spirits in prison; to fulfil an important part of his mission, without which he could not have perfected his work or entered into his rest. [8] After his resurrection, he appeared as an angel to his disciples &c. [9] Translated bodies cannot enter into rest until they have undergone a change equivalent to death. [10] Translated bodies are designed for future missions. The angel that appeared to John on the Isle of Patmos was a translated or resurrected body. [11]—Jesus Christ went in body, after his resurrection, to minister to translated [12] and resurrected [13] bodies. There has been a chain of authority and power from Adam down to the present time. [14] The only way to obtain truth and wisdom, is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer and obtain divine teaching. [15] It is no more incredible that God should save the dead, than that he should raise the dead. There is never a time when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin, which hath no forgiveness, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. There is a way to release the spirit of the dead; that is, by the power and authority of the Priesthood—by binding and loosing on earth. [16]

This doctrine appears glorious, inasmuch as it exhibits the greatness of divine compassion and benevolence in the extent of the plan of human salvation. This glorious truth is well calculated to enlarge the understanding, and to sustain the soul under troubles, difficulties, and distresses.

For illustration the speaker presented, by supposition, the case of two men, brothers, equally intelligent, learned, virtuous and lovely, walking in uprightness and in all good conscience, so far as they had been able to discern duty from the muddy stream of tradition, or from the blotted page of the book of nature. One dies, and is buried, having never heard the gospel of reconciliation, to the other the message of salvation is sent, he hears and embraces it, and is made the heir of eternal life. [17] Shall the one become a partaker of glory, and the other be consigned to hopeless perdition? Is there no chance for his escape? Sectarianism answers, "none! none!! none!!!" Such an idea is worse than atheism. The truth shall break down and dash in pieces all such bigoted Pharisaism; the sects shall be sifted, the honest in heart brought out, and their priests left in the midst of their corruption. The speaker then answered the objections urged against the Latter Day Saints for not admitting the validity of sectarian baptism, and for withholding fellowship from sectarian churches. [18] It was like putting new wine into old bottles and putting old wine into new bottles. What, new revelations in the old churches! New revelations knock out the bottom of their bottomless pit. New wine into old bottles!—the bottles burst and the wine runs out. What, Sadducees in the new church! Old wine in new leathern bottles will leak through the pores and escape; so the Sadducee saints mock at authority, kick out of the traces, and run to the mountains of perdition, leaving the long echo of their braying behind them. [19]

The speaker then contrasted the charity of the sects, in denouncing all who disagree with them in opinion, and in joining in persecuting the saints, with the faith of the saints, who believe that even such may be saved [20] in this world and in the world to come, (murderers and apostates excepted.)

This doctrine, he said, presented 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, [21] and they judged according to the deeds done in the body. [22] 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. [23]

The dispensation of the fulness 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. [24] He shall send Elijah the prophet [25] &c., and restore all things in Christ. [26]

The speaker then announced, "There shall be no more baptisms for the dead, until the ordinance can be attended to in the font of the Lord's House; and the church shall not hold another general conference, until they can meet in said house. For thus saith the Lord!" [27]

Jonathan Dunham Diary [28]

Comm at 9 agan Continued unt 5 P.M. A commandment from the Lord that there should no more Conference be held until the house of the Lord should be finished Adjourned with out day or date. [29]

—3 October 1841


[1] See History of the Church, 4:424-26, and Teachings, pp. 191-93. The History of the Church and Teachings entries for this discourse have their source in the Times and Seasons account. The Jonathan Dunham account is here published for the first time. The following discourse on baptism for the dead was delivered at the October 1841 General Conference of the Church.

[2] William Marks (1792-1872). Baptized by 1835, Marks was a man of means and influence. He was appointed president of the Nauvoo Stake in 1839.

[3] "Come, Let Us Anew Our Journey Pursue" was the hymn that was sung.

[4] Heber C. Kimball (1801-68) was baptized in 1832 and ordained an apostle in 1835.

[5] Obadiah 21.

[6] More than two years before Joseph Smith first preached the doctrine of baptism for the dead, he publicly announced, "All these who have not had an opportunity of hearing the Gospel, and being administered unto by an inspired man in the flesh, must have it hereafter, before they can be finally judged." Elders Journal 1 (July 1838):43.

[7] See 5 October 1840, note 13.

[8] 1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6.

[9] For example, Luke 24:36-39; D&C 129:2.

[10] That is, translated individuals are still mortal. See Mormon's perplexity regarding the nature of translated beings in 3 Nephi 28. In verse 15 he seems convinced that they are immortal; in verse 17 he does not know whether they were immortal or not. Finally, in verses 36-40 he indicates that he had learned by revelation that they were still mortal and would have to undergo a final change in order "to be received into the kingdom of the Father to go no more out." See 5 October 1840, note 13.

[11] Revelation 1:10-20; 19:9-10; 22:8-9.

[12] Apparently the City of Enoch (Moses 7:62-64, 69).

[13] We have no account of Christ's ministry to resurrected beings following his resurrection.

[14] D&C 84:6-18, 25-28; 93:6-17; 27:8, 12-13.

[15] D&C 88:118.

[16] Isaiah 22:22 (Revelation 3:7-12); Matthew 16:19; 18:18; Helaman 10:7; D&C 110:16; 132:46.

[17] Titus 3:7.

[18] D&C 22.

[19] JST Matthew 9:18-23.* David Osborn confirms these teachings in a reminiscent account of what is probably this discourse.

"Joseph's explanation of this saying of the Savior. 'No man putteth new wine into old bottles—but new wine must be put into new bottles, lest the bottles break and the wine be spilt etc.' He said the Jews anciently used bottles made of the skins of sheep and other animals. The wine when new would ferment and swell so would a new bottle stretch and swell, but to put new wine into an old one that had stretched all it could, the bottle was liable to burst and spill the wine. He explained the new wine to represent new revelation. He said he had seen this saying of the Savior's exemplified in this church many times by those who had been gathered out of other churches. Who were so full of ancient revelation on the Bible that when a little more was given they could not find room for it, consequently it was lost to them. They would turn away and leave the church" (David Osborn Journal, Church Archives).

[20] Here we find a hint about the distinction between the terms salvation and exaltation. The use of the term salvation for all those resurrected except the sons of perdition may be found in D&C 76:43 (42-44). However, fewer than two years after this discourse, Joseph recorded his revelation on eternal marriage, wherein angels inherit the Celestial Kingdom but are without "exaltation" (D&C 132:17).

[21] Revelation 20:12-13; D&C 128:6-9.

[22] Revelation 20:12-13.

[23] It should be borne in mind that the policy regarding baptisms for the dead allowed that ordinance work be done (1) for those who were direct ancestors; (2) for those who were known personally by their descendants; and (3) for those believed to have accepted the gospel in the Spirit World. Under these criteria, the Saints were required to do ordinance work for at most three or four generations. Subsequent revelation has added to this responsibility. Statements of Joseph Smith on these criteria may be found in D&C 137:5-9 and Teachings, p. 179.

[24] See 5 October 1840, note 15.

[25] Malachi 4:3-4; Joseph Smith-History 1:38-39 (D&C 2); D&C 110:13-16.

[26] This is important confirmation by Joseph Smith that the appearance of Elijah in the Kirtland Temple completed the restoration of all the keys of the priesthood. See D&C 132:45-48.

[27] Prior to this time, baptisms for the dead were being performed in the Mississippi River and local streams. The baptismal font in the basement of the Nauvoo Temple was completed on 8 November 1841, and baptisms for the dead were commenced on Sunday, 21 November 1841. Wilford Woodruff reported that a large congregation assembled to witness the baptism of about forty persons on that occasion (Wilford Woodruff, Diary, 21 November 1841, Church Archives).

[28] Jonathan Dunham (1800-1845) was Nauvoo high policeman and major-general in the Nauvoo Legion.

[29] That is, they adjourned without establishing a date for the next general conference. (The next general conference was held on 6 April 1842.)