This message by President Smith first appeared in the February 1910 Improvement Era (p. 352). The theme is so timely and the words so pertinent as to merit restating in this space.
Do Latter-day Saints fully realize the importance of the mighty responsibility placed upon us in relation to the salvation of the world? We are doing a great deal in the attempt to convert and save a perverse and wicked generation; we are sending hundreds of missionaries into all parts of the earth and are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in this necessary labor. We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the building of meetinghouses, Church schools, and other buildings, and in the education of the youth of Israel, in developing and improving our lands, building cities and increasing our communities, publishing periodicals and magazines, and in every way diligently striving to improve our own people and disseminate knowledge that will convert the world to the gospel. But what are we doing for the salvation of our dead?
Many there are, it is true, who comprehend this great work and are faithfully discharging their duties in the temples of the Lord. This is a good sign, showing the willingness and activity of the Saints. But this does not relieve the inactive, dilatory members who are doing nothing for their dead. These persons cannot expect to receive credit for what others may be doing; the responsibility rests with equal force on all, according to our individual ability and opportunities.
It matters not what else we have been called to do or what position we may occupy or how faithfully in other ways we have labored in the Church; none are exempt from this great obligation. It is required of the apostle as well as the humblest elder. Place, distinction, or long service in the cause of Zion in the mission field, the stakes of Zion, or elsewhere will not entitle one to disregard the salvation of one’s dead.
Some may feel that if they pay their tithing, attend their regular meetings and other duties, give of their substance to the poor, or perchance spend one, two, or more years preaching in the world, they are absolved from further duty. But the greatest and grandest duty of all is to labor for the dead. We may and should do all these other things, for which reward will be given, but if we neglect the weightier privilege and commandment, notwithstanding all other good works, we shall find ourselves under severe condemnation.
And why such condemnation? Because “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” Because we cannot be saved without them, “it is necessary that those who have gone before and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us, and thus hath God made it obligatory to man,” says the Prophet Joseph Smith. (Times and Seasons 5:616.)
From this, then, we see that while it is necessary to preach the gospel in the nations of the earth and to do all other good works in the Church, yet the greatest commandment given us, and made obligatory, is temple work in our own behalf and in behalf of our dead.
Again the Prophet says: “Baptism for the dead is the only way that men can appear as saviors upon Mount Zion. The proclamation of the first principles of the gospel was a means of salvation to man individually, but men, by actively engaging in rites of salvation substitutionally, become instrumental in bringing multitudes of their kin into the kingdom of God. … 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. … 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.” (Times and Seasons 2:577–78.)
The reason our own salvation stands in jeopardy is because it is necessary that parents and children not only receive the ordinance of baptism, but they must also be joined together from generation to generation. It is necessary for us to go into the temples, be baptized, confirmed, and receive all the ordinances for our dead, just as we receive them for ourselves. (See History of the Church 6:365.)
“… It is sufficient to know,” we read in the revelation, “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.” (D&C 128:18.)
Again, quoting from the prophet: “The Bible says, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.’
“Now, the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal. But what is the object of this important mission? or how is it to be fulfilled? The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God to be gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion.
“But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah. And I would to God this temple was now done, that we might go into it, and go to work and improve our time, and make use of the seals while they are on earth.
“The Saints have not too much time to save and redeem their dead, and gather together their living relatives, that they may be saved also, before the earth will be smitten, and the [consummation] decreed falls upon the world.” (History of the Church 6:183–84.)
These passages emphasize the importance of the work for the dead, for we cannot be saved without them, nor can they be saved without us. Our salvation cannot be accomplished unless the fathers and the children are joined together, bound, sealed in perfect family order. Husbands must be united by authority with their wives, and children to their parents, until theirs is one grand family composed of all the faithful from the beginning to the end of time, with Adam, our progenitor, standing in his calling as the father of us all.