This lesson covers the remaining portion of a letter Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints in early September 1842. In this portion of the letter, the Prophet taught about the salvation of the living and the dead. He encouraged the Saints to be faithful in their work for the dead and expressed his joy in the Restoration of the gospel.
Suggestions for Teaching
Joseph Smith teaches about the salvation of the living and the dead
Display a picture of a baptismal font in a temple (for example, “Temple Baptismal Font,” Gospel Art Book , no. 121; see also LDS.org). Ask students to imagine they are attending a temple open house with a friend who is not a member of the Church. After walking through the baptistry, their friend asks, “Why do you go all the way under the water when you get baptized?” Their friend also asks, “Why do you get baptized for dead people?”
Remind students that while Joseph Smith was hiding from men who were unlawfully seeking to arrest him, he wrote a letter to the Saints. In this letter, he taught them more about baptism for the dead. Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:12–13 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for Joseph Smith’s teaching about the symbolism of baptism.
How could you use the teachings in verses 12–13 to help someone understand why baptism is done by immersion?
Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:15 aloud. Invite the class to follow along and look for reasons why we perform baptisms for the dead.
According to this verse, why do our ancestors need us to perform baptisms for the dead? (As needed, direct students’ attention to the words “they without us cannot be made perfect.” Help students identify the following doctrine: Our ancestors who die without the gospel cannot progress toward perfection until the saving ordinances of the gospel are performed for them.)
If students need help answering this question, invite a student to read the following statement aloud:
“Your deceased ancestors live in a place called the spirit world. There they have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, they cannot receive the ordinances of the gospel for themselves, and they cannot progress until others provide these ordinances for them.
“Your privilege and responsibility is to give your ancestors this gift by identifying them and ensuring that ordinances are performed in their behalf in the temple. They may then choose whether to accept the work that has been done” (Member’s Guide to Temple and Family History Work , 2).
How do you think your ancestors might feel toward you when you do this work for them?
According to verse 15, what is another reason we perform baptisms for the dead? (After students respond, write the following doctrine on the board: The salvation of our deceased ancestors is necessary and essential to our salvation.)
Why do you think “their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation”? (After students have had time to discuss this question, tell them that they will learn more about this doctrine as they continue to study Doctrine and Covenants 128.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:16–17 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and look for prophets in the Bible who wrote about baptism for the dead. Invite them to report what they find.
How might these Bible passages be helpful to a friend who is not a member of the Church?
Display a chain with several links, or draw one on the board.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:18 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the links of a chain relate to Joseph Smith’s teachings about baptism for the dead. (You may want to remind students that a dispensation is a period of time when the Lord reveals His doctrines, ordinances, and priesthood. You may also want to explain that in this verse, the word children refers to us and the word fathers refers to our ancestors.)
How do the links of a chain relate to Joseph Smith’s teachings about baptism for the dead? (Students should identify the following truth: Baptism for the dead helps to link us eternally to our ancestors. Explain that in addition to baptism, the other saving ordinances—confirmation, Melchizedek Priesthood ordination [for men], the temple endowment, and the sealing ordinance—are also essential to secure the welding link between our ancestors and ourselves.)
To help students increase their understanding of the doctrines and principles they have identified in Doctrine and Covenants 128:12–18, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“There must be a family organization, a family unit, and each generation must be linked to the chain that goes before in order to bring perfection in family organization. Thus eventually we will be one large family with Adam at the head, Michael, the archangel, presiding over his posterity” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:175).
Point out that according to verse 18, the earth will be smitten with a curse unless the generations of fathers and children are linked together. To help students understand this doctrine, read the following explanation by President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“If there is not a welding link between the fathers and the children—which is the work for the dead—then we will all stand rejected; the whole work of God will fail and be utterly wasted” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:122).
Joseph Smith expresses joy in the Restoration of the gospel and encourages the Saints to be faithful as they work for the salvation of the dead
Invite students to think about a time when they have been happy to hear really good news. Ask a few students to share their experiences. After they do so, ask them if they wanted to share the news with others, and why.
Explain that another word for news is tidings. Then invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:19 aloud. Ask the class to look for the tidings Joseph Smith said we have received.
What “glad tidings” have we received? (The gospel of Jesus Christ.)
How is the gospel of Jesus Christ a voice of gladness for the living and the dead?
Explain that Joseph Smith listed some of the experiences he had had with heavenly messengers as the gospel was restored through him. Invite students to scan Doctrine and Covenants 128:20–21 and identify the experiences and messengers. You may want to suggest that they mark what they find. Ask students to report what they learn. After they share what they have discovered, summarize their comments by writing the following doctrine on the board: The keys, powers, and authority of the past dispensations have been restored in the dispensation of the fulness of times.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President John Taylor:
“The principles which [Joseph Smith] had placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus, and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent, as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another. Why? Because he had to introduce a dispensation which was called the dispensation of the fulness of times, and it was known as such by the ancient servants of God” (The Gospel Kingdom , 353.)
What difference does it make in your life to know that the gospel was restored to the earth through heavenly messengers?
Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 128:22–23 contains expressions of the joy Joseph Smith felt because the keys of the priesthood had been restored and because the Saints could help redeem the dead. Invite a student to read the verses aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for phrases that are especially meaningful to them. (You may want to suggest that they mark those phrases.) Then ask students to read those phrases and explain why the phrases are meaningful to them.
Ask a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 128:24 aloud, and invite the class to look for what the Prophet instructed the Saints to do. Invite them to report what they find.
According to this verse, what righteous offering are we to make to the Lord? (A book containing the records of our dead.)
What can we do to contribute to this “book”? What does verse 24 teach about our participation in family history work and temple work? (Students may use different words, but they should identify the following principle: When we do family history work and receive temple ordinances for our ancestors, we make a righteous offering to the Lord. Write this principle on the board.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for Elder Bednar’s description of their role in the salvation of the dead:
“Many of you may think family history work is to be performed primarily by older people. But I know of no age limit described in the scriptures or guidelines announced by Church leaders restricting this important service. …
“It is no coincidence that … tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. … The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.
“… I encourage you to study, to search out your ancestors, and to prepare yourselves to perform proxy baptisms in the house of the Lord for your kindred dead. … And I urge you to help other people identify their family histories” (“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 26).
In what ways can you participate in family history work and temple work?
When have you made offerings through family history work and temple work? In what ways were you blessed as you made these offerings?
Share your testimony of the blessings students will receive as they participate in family history work and temple work. Invite students to set goals that will help them do family history work and temple work.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 128:15. “They without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect”
The Prophet Joseph Smith warned:
“Those Saints who neglect [the doctrine of salvation for the dead] in behalf of their deceased relatives, do it at the peril of their own salvation” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 471–72).
Doctrine and Covenants 128:15. Blessings associated with doing family history and temple work
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“Do you young people want a sure way to eliminate the influence of the adversary in your life? Immerse yourself in searching for your ancestors, prepare their names for the sacred vicarious ordinances available in the temple, and then go to the temple to stand as proxy for them to receive the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. As you grow older, you will be able to participate in receiving the other ordinances as well. I can think of no greater protection from the influence of the adversary in your life” (“The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 94).
Doctrine and Covenants 128:24. “The records of our dead”
The phrase “our dead” in Doctrine and Covenants 128:24 implies the responsibility we have to do family history research and perform temple ordinances for our own ancestors. Elder Richard G. Scott explained:
“Temple and family history work is one work divided into two parts. …
“President Howard W. Hunter taught:
“‘We must accomplish the priesthood temple ordinance work necessary for our own exaltation; then we must do the necessary work for those who did not have the opportunity to accept the gospel in life. Doing work for others is accomplished in two steps: first, by family history research to ascertain our progenitors; and second, by performing the temple ordinances to give them the same opportunities afforded to the living. …
“‘I have learned that those who engage in family history research and then perform the temple ordinance work for those whose names they have found will know the additional joy of receiving both halves of the blessing’ [“A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 4–5].
“Father in Heaven wants each of us to receive both parts of the blessing of this vital vicarious work. …
“Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received. The First Presidency has declared, ‘Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors’ [First Presidency letter, Feb. 29, 2012; emphasis added]” (“The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2012, 93–94).