Chapter 9: Repentance and Baptism

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 60–65


On a cold, snowy day in April 1832, Brigham Young was baptized in the icy waters of his own millstream by Eleazer Miller, a four-month convert to the Church. Of this he said, “I felt a humble, childlike spirit, witnessing unto me that my sins were forgiven” (MHBY-1, 2–3). He taught that water itself does not have “any virtue to wash away sin” (DBY, 159) but that baptism is effective in cleansing us from sin when administered by those in authority to those who are accountable and when preceded by repentance and followed by sincere effort to honor baptismal covenants.

Teachings of Brigham Young

As our understanding increases, so do our accountability and responsibility.

Sin consists in doing wrong when we know and can do better, and it will be punished with a just retribution, in the due time of the Lord (DBY, 156).

Though we may do the best we know how at this time, can there be no improvement made in our lives? There can. If we do wrong ignorantly, when we learn it is wrong, then it is our duty to refrain from that wrong immediately and for ever (DBY, 156).

John the Baptist baptizing Jesus

John the Baptist baptizing Jesus Christ. Baptism is a requirement for entering the kingdom of God (see John 3:5).

We can make the Atonement effective in our lives through sincere repentance.

If I have injured any person, I ought to confess to that person and make right what I did wrong (DBY, 158).

I believe in coming out and being plain and honest with that which should be made public, and in keeping to yourselves that which should be kept. … Tell to the public that which belongs to the public. If you have sinned against the people, confess to them. If you have sinned against a family or a neighborhood, go to them and confess. … If you have sinned against one individual, take that person by yourselves and make your confession to him (DBY, 158).

When men truly and heartily repent, and make manifest to the heavens that their repentance is genuine by obedience to the requirements made known to them through the laws of the Gospel, then are they entitled to the administration of salvation, and no power can withhold the good spirit from them (DBY, 156).

Some of our old traditions teach us that a man guilty of atrocious and murderous acts may savingly repent when on the scaffold; and upon his execution will hear the expression, “Bless God! he has gone to heaven, to be crowned in glory, through the all-redeeming merits of Christ the Lord.” This is all nonsense. Such a character never will see heaven. Some will pray, “O that I had passed through the veil on the night of my conversion!” This proves the false ideas and vain notions entertained by the Christian world (DBY, 157).

Native Americans being baptized

Daniel D. MacArthur baptizing Qui-Tuss, chief of the Shivwits Indians, in 1875. On that same day, 130 other members of the tribe were also baptized.

Baptism is an essential ordinance for our salvation.

We, the Latter-day Saints, believe in being baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, according to the testimony of the disciples of Jesus and the revelations of the Lord given in these last days. Infants are pure, they have neither sorrow of heart, nor sins to repent of and forsake, and consequently are incapable of being baptized for the remission of sin. If we have sinned, we must know good from evil; an infant does not know this, it cannot know it; it has not grown into the idea of contemplation of good and evil; it has not the capacity to listen to the parent or teacher or to the priest when they tell what is right or wrong or what is injurious; and until these things are understood a person cannot be held accountable and consequently cannot be baptized for the remission of sin [see Moroni 8] (DBY, 158–59).

There is no ordinance that God has delivered by his own voice, through his Son Jesus Christ, or by the mouths of any of his Prophets, Apostles or Evangelists, that is useless. Every ordinance, every commandment and requirement is necessary for the salvation of the human family (DBY, 152).

If you have been righteous from your birth up, and have never committed known sins and transgressions, be baptized to fulfil all righteousness, as Jesus was. If you can say you have no sins to repent of, forsake your false theories, and love and serve God with an undivided heart (DBY, 159).

All Latter-day Saints enter the new and everlasting covenant when they enter this Church. They covenant to cease sustaining, upholding and cherishing the kingdom of the Devil and the kingdoms of this world. They enter the new and everlasting covenant to sustain the Kingdom of God and no other kingdom. They take a vow of the most solemn kind, before the heavens and earth, and that, too, upon the validity of their own salvation, that they will sustain truth and righteousness instead of wickedness and falsehood, and build up the Kingdom of God, instead of the kingdoms of this world (DBY, 160).

However much we may profess attachment to God and his cause we are not entitled to the blessings and privileges of his Kingdom until we become citizens therein. How can we do this? By repenting of our sins, and obeying the requirements of the Gospel of the Son of God which has been delivered to us. Hundreds and thousands of people have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and repented of their sins, and have had the Holy Spirit to witness unto them that God is love, that they loved him and that he loved them, and yet they are not in his Kingdom. They have not complied with the necessary requirements, they have not entered in at the door (DBY, 152–53).

You have not the power to baptize yourselves, neither have you power to resurrect yourselves; and you could not legally baptize a second person for the remission of sins until some person first baptized you and ordained you to this authority (DBY, 160).

Has water, in itself, any virtue to wash away sin? Certainly not; but the Lord says, “If the sinner will repent of his sins, and go down into the waters of baptism, and there be buried in the likeness of being put into the earth and buried, and again be delivered from the water, in the likeness of being born—if in the sincerity of his heart he will do this, his sins shall be washed away.” [See D&C 128:12–13.] Will the water of itself wash them away? No; but keeping the commandments of God will cleanse away the stain of sin (DBY, 159).

Suggestions for Study

As our understanding increases, so do our accountability and responsibility.

  • How did President Young define sin? (See also James 4:17.)

  • What did President Young teach about our responsibility as we increase in knowledge of right and wrong? (See also 2 Nephi 9:25–27.)

  • What should be our attitude about improving our lives? (See also Alma 34:33.) What does this teach us about knowledge, accountability, and responsibility?

We can make the Atonement effective in our lives through sincere repentance.

  • What is the consequence of true repentance? Why is obedience to the laws of the gospel a necessary part of repentance?

  • What did President Young teach about deathbed repentance?

Baptism is an essential ordinance for our salvation.

  • What part does baptism play in coming unto Christ? (See also Moroni 8:25–26.)

  • What did President Young teach about who should and should not be baptized? Why is it inappropriate to baptize those who are not accountable? (See also Moroni 8:9–14.) What did President Young say to accountable people who say they have no sin?

  • President Young taught that all the ordinances of the gospel, including baptism, are necessary for our salvation. How have the ordinances of the gospel blessed your life?

  • President Young taught that “all Latter-day Saints enter the new and everlasting covenant when they enter this Church.” When we are baptized, what do we covenant to do? What do we covenant to refrain from doing? (See also Mosiah 18:8–10.)

  • Why is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and loving Him not enough alone to enter in at the door of His kingdom?

  • Why must one be “ordained … to this authority” to baptize?

  • According to President Young, what is the significance and symbolism of baptism? (See also Romans 6:3–6, 11; Moses 6:58–60; 1 John 5:7–8.) President Young explained that “water, in itself, [has not] any virtue to wash away sin.” What will cleanse us from sin?