Chapter 3 Section B
Baptism by water is taught by the Church in this dispensation as an essential ordinance of the Gospel. Baptism is the gateway leading into the fold of Christ, the portal to the Church, the established rite of naturalization in the Kingdom of God. The candidate for admission into the Church, having obtained and professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and having sincerely repented of his sins, is properly required to give evidence of this spiritual sanctification by some outward ordinance, prescribed by authority as the sign or symbol of the new profession. The initiatory ordinance is baptism by water, to be followed by the higher baptism of the Holy Spirit; and, as a result of this act of obedience, remission of sins is granted.
That baptism is essential to salvation is attested by many specific scriptures; yet even without such its essentiality appears in view of the unconditional requirement of repentance, and the evident fact that to be of value and effect repentance must imply obedience to the Divine requirements, which include baptism by water. Be it remembered that Jesus, the Christ, though untouched by the taint of sin, submitted in person to this ordinance, which was administered by the Baptist in the waters of Jordan. The burden of John’s teaching was “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and to such as came to him professing repentance he administered baptism by water immersion. Then came Jesus unto John, to be baptized of him; and the Baptist, regarding Him as one without sin, demurred, saying:
“I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
“And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
It is evident from the foregoing that the baptism of Jesus was acceptable unto the Father, and was by Him characterized as an act of humility and obedience on the part of the Son, with which He was well pleased. Some time after His own baptism Jesus affirmed, in words at once forceful and unequivocal, that baptism is required of all men as a condition of entrance into the kingdom of God. To Nicodemus, a ruler among the Jews, who came by night professing some measure of faith, Jesus said: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” When in the resurrected state He manifested Himself to the apostles, He instructed them by way of final and special commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The necessity and purpose of the ordinance appear in His further words on the same solemn occasion: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
The Apostles, inspired by that Divine commission, ceased not to teach the necessity of baptism, even as long as their ministry endured among mortals.
The elders of the Church in the present dispensation have been directed and empowered by the same authority, and almost in the same words: “Go ye into all the world, preach the Gospel to every creature, acting in the authority which I have given you, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.” On another occasion the Lord added, in a revelation through the modern prophet, Joseph Smith: “Therefore, as I said unto mine apostles I say unto you again, that every soul who believeth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost.” And further, “Verily, verily, I say unto you they who believe not on your words, and are not baptized in water, in my name, for the remission of their sins, that they may receive the Holy Ghost, shall be damned, and shall not come into my Father’s kingdom, where my Father and I am.”
The Gift of the Holy Ghost follows baptism by water, and its authoritative bestowal constitutes the next essential ordinance of the Gospel. In both ancient and modern times this endowment has been regarded as a higher baptism, lacking which the baptism of water is incomplete. John, distinctively known as the Baptist, so taught on the very eve of our Savior’s personal ministry. Consider well his words: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” John testifies further that the One who should thus inaugurate the higher baptism was Jesus, Himself. Not until after he had administered the ordinance of water baptism to Jesus, did John recognize Him as the Christ; but immediately after that recognition, the Baptist fearlessly proclaimed his testimony:
“Behold the Lamb of God This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.”
Jesus repeatedly promised the apostles that the “Comforter” or the “Spirit of Truth” should be given unto them; and this assurance was made specific and final immediately prior to the ascension. He “commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” The promise was fulfilled at the succeeding Pentecost when the apostles received power never before known to them, the endowment being marked by an outward manifestation of fiery tongues. The apostles thereafter promised the Holy Ghost to those who sought salvation. Peter’s exhortation to the multitude, on that same memorable day of Pentecost, is particularly explicit and forceful. In answer to the inquiry, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” the chief of the apostles replied: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
A similar assurance as to the higher endowment of the Holy Ghost following the ordinance of water-baptism was made by Nephite prophets, and by the resurrected Christ in His visit to the people of the western continent. And later still this has been repeated through the Church in the current dispensation, that of the fullness of times: “I say unto you again,” said the Lord in a revelation to certain elders of the Church, “that every soul who believeth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost.”
By way of summary let it be repeated: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds as a fundamental doctrine, attested and proved by scripture both ancient and modern, that compliance with the laws and ordinances of the Gospel is an absolute and irrevocable requirement for admission into the Kingdom of God, or in other words, for the securing of individual salvation to the souls of men, and that this requirement is universal, applying alike to every soul that has attained to age and powers of accountability in the flesh, in whatever period or dispensation that soul has lived in mortality. It follows as a necessary consequence that if any soul has failed, either through ignorance or neglect, to render obedience to these requirements, the obligation is not removed by death.
Vicarious Service of the Living for the Dead
A question now arises as to how it is possible for the dead to comply with the terms of the Gospel and do in the spirit what they had failed to do in the flesh. The exercise of faith and the manifestation of repentance by disembodied spirits may offer no great difficulty to human understanding; but that the dead shall obey the ordinances of the Gospel requiring water-baptism and the baptism of the Spirit by the authorized laying-on of hands, appears to many as truly impossible as seemed the new birth to Nicodemus. He listened in amazement to the Savior’s words: “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God;” and asked: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” At last he learned that the new birth referred to was baptism by water and the baptism of the Spirit. With equal pertinency it may now be asked: How can a man be baptized when he is dead? Can he enter the second time into his body of flesh and be immersed in water by human agency? The answer is that the necessary ordinances may be performed for the dead by their living representatives, the mortal subject acting as proxy for the departed one. Thus, even as a man may be baptized in his own person for himself, he may be baptized as proxy for and in behalf of the dead.
The validity of vicarious service, in which one person acts in behalf of another, is generally recognized as an element of human institutions; and that such service may be acceptable unto God is attested by the written word. Ancient and modern scripture, the record of history other than sacred, the traditions of tribes and nations, the rites of bloody sacrifice, and even the sacrificial abominations of pagan idolatry, involve the essential conception of vicarious propitiation and of service rendered by proxy. The scape-goat and the altar victim in the Mosaic dispensation, when offered by constituted authority and with due accompaniment of acknowledgment and repentance, were accepted by the Lord as sacrifices in mitigation of the sins of His people.
The most significant sacrifice of all, the greatest work ever wrought amongst mankind, the pivotal event in human history, the supreme achievement which was at once the most glorious consummation and the most blessed beginning, is the Atonement of Christ; and this was pre-eminently a vicarious offering. No one who believes that Jesus died for man can doubt the validity and efficacy of vicarious ministration. He gave His life as a fore-ordained sacrifice, voluntarily offered and duly accepted as a propitiation for broken law, and the means by which salvation was made possible unto man. That His death was literally an accepted offering in behalf of human kind is thus set forth in the words of the resurrected Christ, given through modern revelation:
“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent, but if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I, which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit: and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink-nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”
The vicarious effect of the atonement of Christ is twofold; it has wrought a universal redemption of all men from the mortal death incident to the transgression of Adam; and it has provided a means of propitiation for individual sin whereby the sinner may attain salvation through obedience. It is by His mortal life and sacrificial death in behalf of others,-and those others, all who have lived or shall live,-that Jesus the Christ earned His title, Savior and Redeemer of mankind. And as He by effort, sacrifice, and suffering, did for men what they never could accomplish for themselves, and so be- came in very truth the one and only Savior and Redeemer of the race, so may each of us by opening the way to our departed dead whereby they may be brought within the saving law of the Gospel, become in a small measure saviors unto those who would otherwise be left in darkness.
In every instance of vicarious ministration, it is an indispensable requisite that the proxy be worthy and acceptable; and of necessity he must himself have obeyed the laws and ordinances of the Gospel before he can officiate in behalf of others. Further, the ministrations of the living representative must be in accordance with Divine appointment, and in no wise a merely human assumption. The acceptable sacrifices of ancient Israel were such as had been definitely specified and minutely prescribed; and the sacrificial rites could be solemnized only by authorized priests. The supreme sacrifice involved in the atoning death of Christ was as truly appointed and fore-ordained. Prophets, through the long centuries antedating the Christian era, predicted the birth, life, and death of our Lord as already provided for; and these prophecies were confirmed by Jesus Himself. Consider also the testimony of the apostles to the same effect. Peter specifically designates Christ as “a Lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world.” The designation “Lamb” is indicative of a sacrificial victim. Paul in writing to the Romans characterizes our Lord as the one “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.”