From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
“My soul is rent asunder. My heart is broken, and flutters for life! O my sweet son, my joy, my hope! … O God, help me!”1 lamented President Joseph F. Smith at the unexpected death of his oldest son, Hyrum M. Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Hyrum was 45 years old. Six months later President Smith presided at the Salt Lake City Cemetery when a monument was erected in honor of his father, Hyrum. It was 27 June 1918, the anniversary of the martyrdom of his father and his uncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The Spirit of the Lord must have stirred his soul as he contemplated the deaths of his loved ones. A few months later, only weeks before his own death, President Smith recorded: “I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world. … While I was thus engaged, my mind reverted to the writings of the apostle Peter [see 1 Peter 3:18–20; 1 Peter 4:6]. … As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great” (D&C 138:1–2, 5, 11).
He then received the vision of the redemption of the dead, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138, which taught him new truths and reaffirmed doctrines he had believed and taught for decades.
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
Jesus Christ was foreordained and anointed to save the living and the dead.
[The Savior] was sent not only to preach the gospel to those dwelling in mortality, but he was foreordained and anointed of God to open the doors of the prison house to those in bondage and to proclaim his gospel to them.2
On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures;
And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world;
And the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world;
That through his atonement, and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, mankind might be saved. …
As I pondered over these things which are written [see 1 Peter 3:18–20; 1 Peter 4:6], the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.
And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality. …
While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance. …
And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.
And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who were bound, even unto all who would repent of their sins and receive the gospel.
Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets.3
Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission.4
The living and the dead labor together to bring the gospel to all of God’s children.
We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission. The dead are not perfect without us, neither are we without them [see D&C 128:18]. We have a mission to perform for and in their behalf; we have a certain work to do in order to liberate those who, because of their ignorance and the unfavorable circumstances in which they were placed while here, are unprepared for eternal life; we have to open the door for them, by performing ordinances which they cannot perform for themselves, and which are essential to their release from the “prison-house,” to come forth and live according to God in the spirit, and be judged according to men in the flesh [see D&C 138:33–34].
The Prophet Joseph Smith has said that this is one of the most important duties that devolves upon the Latter-day Saints. And why? Because this is the dispensation of the fulness of times, which will usher in the millennial reign, and in which all things spoken by the mouths of holy prophets, since the world began, must be fulfilled, and all things united, both which are in heaven and in the earth. We have that work to do; or, at least all we can of it, leaving the balance to our children, in whose hearts we should instill the importance of this work, rearing them in the love of the truth and in the knowledge of these principles, so that when we pass away, having done all we can do, they will then take up the labor and continue it until it is consummated.5
The same principles that apply to the living apply also to the dead. … And so we are baptized for those that are dead. The living cannot be made perfect without the dead, nor the dead be made perfect without the living. There has got to be a welding together and a joining together of parents and children and children and parents until the whole chain of God’s family shall be welded together into one chain, and they shall all become the family of God and His Christ.6
This gospel revealed to the Prophet Joseph is already being preached to the spirits in prison, to those who have passed away from this stage of action into the spirit world without the knowledge of the gospel. Joseph Smith is preaching that gospel to them. So is Hyrum Smith. So is Brigham Young, and so are all the faithful apostles that lived in this dispensation under the administration of the Prophet Joseph [see D&C 138:36–37, 51–54]. They are there, having carried with them from here the holy Priesthood that they received under authority, and which was conferred upon them in the flesh; they are preaching the gospel to the spirits in prison; for Christ, when his body lay in the tomb, went to proclaim liberty to the captives and opened the prison doors to them that were bound [see D&C 138:27–30]. Not only are these engaged in that work but hundreds and thousands of others; the elders that have died in the mission field have not finished their missions, but they are continuing them in the spirit world [see D&C 138:57]. Possibly the Lord saw it necessary or proper to call them hence as he did. I am not going to question that thought, in the least, nor dispute it. I leave it in the hand of God, for I believe that all these things will be overruled for good, for the Lord will suffer nothing to come to his people in the world that he will not overrule eventually for their greater good.7
I have always believed, and still do believe with all my soul, that such men as Peter and James and the twelve disciples chosen by the Savior in his time, have been engaged all the centuries that have passed since their martyrdom for the testimony of Jesus Christ, in proclaiming liberty to the captives in the spirit world and in opening their prison doors [see D&C 138:38–50]. I do not believe that they could be employed in any greater work. Their special calling and anointing of the Lord himself was to save the world, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison doors to those who were bound in chains of darkness, superstition, and ignorance. …
… The things we experience here are typical of the things of God and the life beyond us. There is a great similarity between God’s purposes as manifested here and his purposes as carried out in his presence and kingdom. Those who are authorized to preach the gospel here and are appointed here to do that work will not be idle after they have passed away, but will continue to exercise the rights that they obtained here under the Priesthood of the Son of God to minister for the salvation of those who have died without a knowledge of the truth.8
We can become saviors upon Mount Zion by performing saving ordinances for the dead in temples.
Teach your children and let yourselves be taught the fact that it is necessary for you to become saviors upon Mount Zion for those who have died without the knowledge of the gospel, and that the temples of God in these mountains, and that are being reared in other lands, have been built and are designed expressly for the performance of these sacred ordinances which are necessary for those who have passed away without them. Do not forget these things. Keep them in mind for they are necessary for us.9
This great work for the redemption of our dead, the uniting together of the living and the dead, the sealing power … and all the ordinances that have been revealed to be performed in the sacred edifices called temples, which we are under commandment from God always to build unto His holy name, … these things have been revealed to us in this dispensation in greater fulness and in greater plainness than ever before in the history of the world so far as we know.10
We hope to see the day when we shall have temples built in the various parts of the land where they are needed for the convenience of the people; for we realize that one of the greatest responsibilities that rests upon the people of God today is that their hearts shall be turned unto their fathers [see Malachi 4:5–6; D&C 2], and that they shall do the work that is necessary to be done for them in order that they may be joined together fitly in the bond of the New and Everlasting Covenant from generation to generation. For the Lord has said, through the Prophet, that this is one of the greatest responsibilities devolving upon us in this latter day.11
In relation to the deliverance of spirits from their prison house, of course, we believe that can only be done after the gospel has been preached to them in the spirit, and they have accepted the same, and the work necessary to their redemption by the living be done for them. That this work may be hastened so that all who believe, in the spirit world, may receive the benefit of deliverance, it is revealed that the great work of the Millennium shall be the work in the temples for the redemption of the dead; and then we hope to enjoy the benefits of revelation … by such means as the Lord may reveal concerning those for whom the work shall be done. … It stands to reason that, while the gospel may be preached unto all, the good and the bad, or rather to those who would repent and to those who would not repent in the spirit world, the same as it is here, redemption will only come to those who repent and obey.12
Great activity has been manifest … on the part of the saints in their temple work. The spirit to work for the redemption of the dead is resting upon them, and an increased interest has been shown in this work of divine love. This work is, the Prophet Joseph tells us, “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.’” [D&C 128:15.] The command of God is for the saints to labor with their might for the redemption of their dead. …
… The Spirit which moves the saints to work for the redemption of the dead is the planting in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers. This same spirit seems to be moving upon the hearts of honorable men of the earth who are spending their time and means in collecting and compiling genealogical records. … The saints should take advantage of every opportunity to obtain the records as far as possible of their ancestors, that their redemption through the ordinances of the House of God might be obtained. We commend the saints for their diligence in this most important and essential work.13
We carry to the world the olive branch of peace. We present to the world the law of God, the word of the Lord, the truth, as it has been revealed in the latter day for the redemption of the dead and for the salvation of the living.14
Suggestions for Study
What is the “work” and the “mission” of the Savior? What did the Savior do in the spirit world to help fulfill this great work? (See D&C 138:11–12, 18–19, 29–30.)
What can we do to open the “prison doors to those who [are] bound in chains of darkness, superstition, and ignorance”? What has helped you in your efforts to find information about your ancestors and have their temple ordinances completed?
How can we “become saviors upon Mount Zion”? Why is this work “one of the greatest responsibilities that rests upon the people of God today”?
What are some of the purposes of temples? What blessings have come to you because you have done work for others in the temple or submitted names so that work could be done?
What will be “the great work of the Millennium”? How can we participate in this work now?
How has the knowledge of God’s plan for redeeming the dead blessed your life? What does this plan tell us about God’s love for all of His children?
Life of Joseph F. Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (1938), 474.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 460.
Gospel Doctrine, 442.
Gospel Doctrine, 442.
“Discourse by President Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star, 4 Oct. 1906, 628–29.
Gospel Doctrine, 471–72.
Gospel Doctrine, 460–61.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1917, 6.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1913, 9–10.
Gospel Doctrine, 471.
Gospel Doctrine, 438.
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 4:193–94.
Gospel Doctrine, 74.