Salvation for the dead is a doctrine which shows forth the love and mercy and justice of God in His dealings with all His children—not only to those whose receive the gospel in this life, but to all those to whom this privilege does not come, since they are still precious in the Lord’s sight.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are a most blessed and favored people. The Lord has restored to us the sealing power, the power to bind on earth and have our acts sealed eternally in the heavens.
This sealing power is the same divine authorization received by Peter in fulfillment of the Lord’s promises:
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).
The sealing power was given by the Prophet Elijah to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the third day of April 1836 in the Kirtland Temple. The sealing power now resides in the Church and will continue to do so to the end of time.
To understand what is involved in this modern ministry of Elijah—a prophet who was translated and taken up into heaven without tasting death, but who now is a resurrected and exalted being—we must remind ourselves of two great truths.
The first great truth is that we are the spirit children of God our Heavenly Father; that we are members of His family; that we dwelt with Him for long ages in our premortal life. God ordained a plan of progression and salvation which would enable us—if we are faithful and true in all things—to advance and progress until we became like Him.
This plan of salvation is family centered. It leads to eternal life, and eternal life is the name of the kind of life that God our Father lives. This plan of salvation is designed to enable us to create eternal family units of our own.
The second great truth we need to remind ourselves of is that God has restored the fulness of His everlasting gospel. That is, He has revealed anew the law and principles by which we may press forward in righteousness until we gain eternal life. And He has conferred again upon men that priesthood and those powers whereby they can be sealed up unto eternal life.
Eternal life consists of the continuation of the family in eternity. And the sealing power restored by Elijah includes the power to bind families together forever. By virtue of this power we perform marriages in the temples which cause family units to endure for time and all eternity. And it is this same power that reaches out to include our ancestors who did not have the opportunity to receive the gospel when they lived on earth.
Thus we find Malachi promising that when the Lord should send the Prophet Elijah “before the coming of the great and dreadful day,” this great prophet would “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:5–6). This is exactly what happened. Since that third day of April 1836, when Elijah conferred the sealing power again upon men on earth, there has been a great increase in genealogical research, the result of which is to identify our dead ancestors so that we can perform the ordinances of salvation for them vicariously.
Our first concern should be our own salvation. We should seek every gospel blessing for ourselves. We should be baptized and enter into the order of celestial marriage so that we can become inheritors in the fulness of our Father’s kingdom.
Then we should be concerned about our families and our ancestors. We should teach the gospel to others, so they will have opportunity to gain all of the blessings of the gospel and eternal family units of their own.
Next we should seek out our dead ancestors and perform the ordinances of salvation and exaltation for them in the temples of the Lord. Our descendants and our ancestors are all members of our families, and we do and should have more concern about their spiritual well-being than that of any other people in the world.
The Lord has decreed that all of His spirit children, every soul who has lived or shall live on earth, shall have a fair and just opportunity to believe and obey the laws of His everlasting gospel. Those who accept the gospel and live in harmony with its laws, including baptism and celestial marriage, shall have eternal life.
It is obvious that only a small portion of mankind has so far heard the word of revealed truth from the voice of one of the Lord’s true servants. In the wisdom and justice of the Lord, all must do so. As Peter said: “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit (1 Pet. 4:6).
Those who did not have the opportunity to hear the message of salvation in this life but who would have accepted it with all their hearts if such an opportunity had come to them—they are the ones who will accept it in the spirit world; they are the ones for whom we shall perform the ordinances in the temples; and they are the ones who shall become heirs with us of salvation and eternal life.
I think this doctrine of salvation for the dead is one of the most glorious principles ever revealed to man. It is the way in which the gospel shall be offered to all men. It establishes the fact that God is no respecter of persons; that every soul is precious in His sight; and that all men will be judged according to their works.
Now, I thank the Lord that He has restored His everlasting gospel to us in this day. I thank Him for the sealing power returned to earth by the Prophet Elijah. I thank Him for the eternal family unit, for the privilege we have of being sealed ourselves in His holy temples. I thank him for making available these sealing blessings for our ancestors who died without a knowledge of the gospel.
What a wonderful privilege is granted to us that we may go into the temples of the Lord and perform the work of salvation for our ancestors who lived and died before the Church was established among them.
I bear testimony that the work in which we are engaged is true. I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God; that he received the revelations, the priesthood, and the keys; and that he set up this Church and kingdom at the command and direction of the Lord.
I love the Lord and desire to see His earthly kingdom prosper—and it is prospering. The gospel is rolling forth in the nations of the earth in a marvelous manner; we are identifying our progenitors and performing the ordinances of salvation and exaltation for them by virtue of the sealing power which we now possess.