Joseph F. Smith was baptized on 21 May 1852 in City Creek near the northeast corner of Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The ordinance was performed by President Heber C. Kimball, a member of the First Presidency and a close friend of Joseph’s martyred father. In describing that day, Joseph F. Smith said: “I felt in my soul that if I had sinned—and surely I was not without sin—that it had been forgiven me; that I was indeed cleansed from sin; my heart was touched, and I felt that I would not injure the smallest insect beneath my feet. I felt as if I wanted to do good everywhere to everybody and to everything. I felt a newness of life, a newness of desire to do that which was right. There was not one particle of desire for evil left in my soul. I was but a little boy, it is true, when I was baptized; but this was the influence that came upon me, and I know that it was from God, and was and ever has been a living witness to me of my acceptance of the Lord.”1
Throughout his life, President Smith sought to honor the covenants he made at his baptism. He taught that repentance from sin was essential to keeping these covenants: “I believe in the principle of repentance, because I have tested it and I know it to be good. If in an evil moment I have said or done anything that has given offense to my brother, I never could be satisfied or feel free from a certain degree of bondage until I went to that brother whom I had wronged, repented of my sin and made it right with him. Then the load would be lifted and I would at once feel the good effect of repentance of sin.”2
I want to say to you that the principles of the gospel are always true—the principles of faith in God, of repentance from sin, of baptism for the remission of sins by authority of God, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; these principles are always true and are always absolutely necessary for the salvation of the children of men, no matter who they are or where they are. … No man can enter into the kingdom of heaven except he be born again of the water and of the Spirit. These principles are indispensable, for God has declared them. Not only has Christ declared them by his own voice, and his disciples from generation to generation, in the olden time, but in these latter days, they have taken up the same testimony and declared these things to the world. They are true today as they were true then, and we must obey these things.3
We must obey the will of the Father. I frequently hear people say, “All that is required of a man in this world is to be honest and square,” and that such a man will attain to exaltation and glory. But those who say this do not remember the saying of the Lord, that “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” [See John 3:5.] … No matter how good, how honorable, how honest he is, he must pass through that door in order to enter into the kingdom of God. The Lord requires it. Therefore, if he refuses or declines to enter through the door of the sheepfold, he can never become an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ.4
Repentance of a sin is an eternal principle, and is as essential in its place, and is as much an integral part of the gospel of Jesus Christ as: “thou shalt not kill,” or, “thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Baptism for the remission of sin, by one having authority, is an eternal principle, for God devised it, and commanded it, and Christ himself was not above obeying it; he had to obey it in order to fulfil the law of righteousness.5
The Lord taught through Joseph Smith; repentance of sin, then baptism by immersion with Christ, being buried with Him in the water, in the liquid grave, and coming forth again out of the liquid grave in likeness of His resurrection from death to life, baptism by immersion, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands; these are necessary for the salvation of the children of men.6
Men can only be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God in righteousness, therefore we must repent of our sins, and walk in the light as Christ is in the light, that his blood may cleanse us from all sins, and that we may have fellowship with God and receive of his glory and exaltation.7
Does repentance consist of sorrow for wrong doing? Yes, but is this all? By no means. True repentance only is acceptable to God, nothing short of it will answer the purpose. Then what is true repentance? True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rights—that which is due to them from us. This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance; then God will accept it.8
No mouth profession of repentance is acceptable to God unless it is carried out in practice. We must have works as well as faith; we must do as well as pretend to do.9
Who can say in his heart, in the presence of God and man, “I have truly repented of all my sins.” … I have many weaknesses and imperfections. I have as many weaknesses as many of you, and I do not know but what I have more than a great many of you. … I have not been able yet to live up to and honor this second principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and I would like to see the man who has. I would like to see the human preacher who has done it. But I am trying, I want you to understand, my brethren and sisters, I am still trying.10
You cannot take a murderer, … an adulterer, a liar, or one who was or is thoroughly abominable in his life here, and simply by the performance of an ordinance of the gospel, cleanse him from sin and usher him into the presence of God. God has not instituted a plan of that kind, and it cannot be done. He has said you shall repent of your sins. The wicked will have to repent of their wickedness. Those who die without the knowledge of the gospel will have to come to the knowledge of it, and those who sin against light will have to pay the uttermost farthing for their transgression and their departure from the gospel, before they can ever get back to it. Do not forget that. Do not forget it, you elders in Israel, nor you, mothers in Israel, either; and, when you seek to save either the living or the dead, bear it in mind that you can only do it on the principle of their repentance and acceptation of the plan of life.11
A time for reconciliation has come … that we shall … plead with the Lord for the spirit of repentance, and, having obtained it, follow its promptings; so that in humbling ourselves before Him and seeking forgiveness from each other, we shall yield that charity and generosity to those who crave our forgiveness that we ask for and expect from Heaven.12
While there is life there is hope, and while there is repentance there is a chance for forgiveness; and if there is forgiveness, there is a chance for growth and development until we acquire the full knowledge of these principles that will exalt and save us and prepare us to enter into the presence of God the Father.13
Having thus repented, the next thing requisite is baptism, which is an essential principle of the gospel—no man can enter into the gospel covenant without it. It is the door of the Church of Christ, we cannot get in there in any other way, for Christ hath said it, “sprinkling,” or “pouring,” is not baptism. Baptism means immersion in water, and is to be administered by one having authority, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Baptism without divine authority is not valid. It is a symbol of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and must be done in the likeness thereof, by one commissioned of God, in the manner prescribed, otherwise it is illegal and will not be accepted by him, nor will it effect a remission of sins, the object for which it is designed, but whosoever hath faith, truly repents and is “buried with Christ in baptism,” by one having divine authority, shall receive a remission of sins, and is entitled to the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.14
We are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. We are initiated into the Church and Kingdom of God in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and we worship the Father. We seek to obey the Son and follow in his footsteps.15
It is the duty of Latter-day Saints to teach their children the truth, to bring them up in the way they should go, to teach them the first principles of the gospel, the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins, and for membership in the Church of Christ.16
Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, by one having authority, is a true principle, because Christ taught it; Christ obeyed it, and would not fail, for anything, to fulfil it—not that He was sinful and needed to be baptized for the remission of sins, but He only needed to do it to fulfill all righteousness, that is, to fulfil the law.17
Jesus himself attended to the ordinance of baptism; he instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, and ordained its observance; and performed other rites which he thought essential to man’s salvation. In the case of Nicodemus, he so emphasized baptism that he made the birth of water and the Spirit essential to man’s salvation [see John 3:1–5].18
There appears to be, among some of our people, an inadequate conception of the sanctity attending certain of the ordinances of the Holy Priesthood. True, the ministrations of those in authority among us are not attended with … pomp and worldly ceremony … , but the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in possession of the Priesthood is sufficient to make any and every ordinance administered by due authority within the Church an event of supreme importance. In performing any such ordinance the one who officiates speaks and acts, not of himself and of his personal authority, but by virtue of his ordination and appointment as a representative of the powers of heaven. We do not … make the ordinance of baptism a spectacular display; but the simplicity of the order established in the Church of Christ ought rather to add to than take from the sacred character of the several ordinances.19
There are blessings which pertain to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the world to come, which cannot be secured by personal influence, nor be bought with money, and which no man by his own intelligence or wisdom can obtain except through compliance with certain ordinances, laws and commandments which have been given. And it is well, in my judgment, for the Latter-day Saints to continue to bear in mind that the inestimable blessings of the gospel have been bestowed upon them through their faith, that a remission of sins has been obtained by baptism and repentance, and that it is only through continuing faithful that they can retain the gifts and blessings which pertain to eternal life.20
Then, we say to you who have repented of your sins, who have been buried with Christ in baptism, who have been raised from the liquid grave to newness of life, born of the water and of the Spirit, and who have been made the children of the Father, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ—we say to you, if you will observe the laws of God, and cease to do evil, … and have faith in God, believe in the truth and receive it, and be honest before God and man, that you will be set up on high, and God will put you at the head, just as sure as you observe these commandments. Whoso will keep the commandments of God, no matter whether it be you or any other people, they will rise and not fall, they will lead and not follow, they will go upward and not downward. God will exalt them and magnify them before the nations of the earth, and he will set the seal of his approval upon them, will name them as his own. This is my testimony to you.21
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, to know the only true and living God and his Son whom he has sent into the world, which knowledge comes through obedience to all his commandments, faith, repentance of sin, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by divine authority, and not by the will of man. This, then, is the gospel of Jesus Christ which is the power of God unto salvation: obedience to the truth, submission to the order that God has established in his house, for the house of God is a house of order and not a house of confusion.22
We testify that the barriers which separated man from God have been overcome, that the Lord again communicates His will to man. “But,” says one, “How shall we become acquainted with these things? How can we know that you are not deceived?” To all such we say, repent of your sins in all sincerity, then go forth and be baptized, and have hands laid upon you for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and that spirit will bear record to you of the truth of our testimony, and you will become witnesses of it as we are, and will be able to stand forth boldly and testify to the world as we do.23
What is “true repentance”? Why does repentance precede baptism?
How are we affected when we disobey a law of God? Why is it better to obey God’s laws rather than committing sin with the idea of repenting later?
How does the principle of repentance give us hope? (See also Moroni 7:41.) How is repentance properly seen as “a chance for growth and development”?
How does it make you feel to know that someone who has been commissioned of Jesus Christ baptizes us in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost? (See also D&C 20:73.) How did you feel when you were baptized or when you attended other people’s baptisms?
Why is the authority of the priesthood to baptize more important to the baptismal ordinance than any “pomp and worldly ceremony”? How can the simplicity of the baptismal ordinance be preserved and honored?
What knowledge and blessings have you received through repentance and baptism? How can you retain those blessings?