Doctrine and Covenants Study
Joseph Smith’s Revelations, Doctrine and Covenants 128

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“Doctrine and Covenants 128,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers (2020)

“Doctrine and Covenants 128,” Joseph Smith’s Revelations: A Doctrine and Covenants Study Companion from the Joseph Smith Papers

Doctrine and Covenants 128

Letter to the Church, 7 September 1842

Source Note

JS, Letter, [Nauvoo, Hancock Co., IL], to “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” 7 Sept. 1842; handwriting of William Clayton; signature of JS; nine pages; Revelations Collection, CHL. Includes address, docket, and archival marking. For more information, see the source note in JSP, D11:56–57.

Historical Introduction

On 7 September 1842, JS dictated a letter addressed to the church giving further instructions on performing and recording baptisms for the dead. He wrote from the home of Edward Hunter, where he was hiding from men sent to arrest him on charges of complicity in the attempted murder of former Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs.1 This letter expanded on JS’s 1 September 1842 letter to the church, which included some instructions on recording baptisms for the dead and promised to give additional instructions in the future.2

Since the founding of the church, record keeping had served as an important theme in both the revelations and teachings of JS and had influenced the day-to-day operations of the church.3 With the instructions in both this and the 1 September letter, however, JS outlined a more detail-oriented approach to record keeping than had previously been practiced among the Latter-day Saints. JS’s discussion of record keeping in this 7 September letter was a vital step toward the procedural systematization of baptisms for the dead and the attendant records of those ordinances, as record keeping had been limited prior to September 1842 and often varied from branch to branch.4 The enhanced record-keeping efforts that JS suggested resembled those that contemporaneous state and county recorders were making to maintain official copies of deeds and other records. JS explained, however, that the Saints needed to maintain an accurate record of these ordinances because the record would subsequently be written in heaven and become a book that the Saints would offer to God.

In the letter, JS also tied baptisms for the dead to his Nauvoo-era teachings regarding priesthood and dispensations of the gospel.5 He explained that through the ordinance, the Saints could forge a generational chain between parents and children, just as there would be a “welding together” of the various keys and dispensations from Adam down to JS in the “dispensation of the fulness of times.” Building on this teaching, JS used the letter to recount briefly that he had been visited by ancient prophets who provided him with the necessary keys.

At JS’s request, this letter was “read to the saints at the Grove near the Temple” on 11 September 1842. William Clayton reported in JS’s journal that the letter “made a deep and solemn impression on the minds of the saints,” who “manifested their intentions to obey the instructions to the letter.”6 Soon thereafter, general church recorder James Sloan began keeping a new record for baptisms for the dead. The first entry in the book was for proxy baptisms performed on the evening of 11 September 1842, with the entries for that date reflecting the new instructions contained in this letter.7

The featured version of the letter is a loose copy in Clayton’s handwriting. It is the earliest known extant manuscript copy and may be the original dictated letter. The letter was copied into JS’s journal by Eliza R. Snow on or around 11 September. Differences between the Clayton version and the version copied in JS’s journal are noted. Although both versions date the letter 6 September, JS’s journal entry for 7 September notes that he “wrote—or rather dictated a long Epistle to the Saints which he ordered to be read next Sabbath.”8 The letter may have been misdated in the loose copy, with the error copied into the journal, or Clayton may have mistakenly attributed the letter to 6 September while making entries in JS’s journal.9 The letter was subsequently published in the 1 October 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons.10 At some point between September 1842 and July 1843, James Sloan inscribed onto a single leaf excerpts from the letter pertaining to how the records were to be kept.11 Water damage and other markings on the page suggest he may have kept this document with the baptisms for the dead records that he made pursuant to the instructions in the letter. The letter was later included in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.12

Journeying13 Sepr. 6th. [7th] 1842

To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Sendeth Greeting— [1]As I stated to you in my letter14 before I left my place15 that I would write to you from time to time and give you information in relation to many subjects.16 I now resume the subject of the Baptism for the dead as that subject seems to occupy my mind and press itself upon my feelings the strongest since I have been pursued by my enemies. [2]I wrote a few words of Revelation to you, concerning a Recorder. a I have received <had> a few additional feelings <views> in relation to this matter which I now Certify. i.e It was declared in my former letter that there should be a Recorder who should be eye-witness, and also to hear with his ears, that he might, make a Record of a truth before the Lord.17 [3]Now in relation to this matter, it would be very difficult for one Recorder to be present at all times and to do all the business.18 To obviate this difficulty there can be a Recorder appointed in each ward of the City19 who is well qualified for taking accurate minutes20 and let him be very particular and precise in making his Record, in taking the whole proceeding certifying in his Record that he saw with his eyes, and heard with his ears, giving the date, and names &c,21 and the history of the whole transaction, nameing also some three individuals that are present if there be any present who can at any time when called upon certify to the same that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.22 [4]Then let there be a general Recorder to whom these other records can be handed being attended with certificates over their own signatures [p. 1] Certifying that the Record which they have made is true23 Then the General Church Recorder can enter the Record on the general Church Book24 with the certificates and all the attending witnesses, with his own statement that he verily believes the above statement and records to be true from his knowledge of the general characters and appointment of those men by the Church.25 And when this is done on the general Church Book the Record shall be just as Holy and shall answer the ordinance just the same as if he had seen with his eyes and heard with his ears and made a record of the same on the general Book26 [5]You may think this order of things to be very particular but let me tell you, that27 they are only to answer the will of God by conforming to the ordinance and preparation that the Lord ordained and prepared before the foundation of the world for the salvation of the dead who should die without a knowledge of the Gospel. [6]And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead when he declared as you will find recorded in Revelations Chap 20 v 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, small an stand before God: and the books were opened: and another Book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works [7]You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened and another book was opened which was the book of life but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works, consequently the books spoken off must be the books which contained [p. 2] the record of their worth works and refers to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven;28 the principal agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letters which I wrote you previous to my leaving my place “that in all your recordings it may be recorded in Heaven”. [8]Now the nature of this ordinance consists in the power of the priesthood by the Revelations of Jesus Christ wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven:29 or in other words, taking a different view of the translation; whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in Heaven; and whatsoever you do not record on earth, shall not be recorded in Heaven, for out of the books shall they be <your dead be> judged according to their works wither wether they themselves have attended to the ordinances in their own propria persona,30 or by the means of their own agents according to the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world, according to the records which they have kept concerning their dead. [9]It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of; a power which records, or binds on earth, and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world whenever the Lord has given a dispensatin of the priesthood to any man, by actual Revelation or any set of men this power has always been given; hence, whatsoever those men did, in authority in the name of the Lord, and did, it truly, and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in Heaven [p. 3] and could not be annulled according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying!,31 who can hear it? [10]And again for a precedent Matthew chapter 16 verses 18 & 19 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter: and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. 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. [11]Now the great and grand secret of the whole matter and the sum and bonnum32 of the whole subject that is lying before us consists in obtaining the powers of the Holy priesthood. For him, to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the death dead as for the living. [12]Herein is glory, and honor, and immortality and eternal life. The ordinance of Baptism by water, to be immersed therein in order to answer to the likeness of the dead,33 that one principal might accord with the others. To be immersed in the water and come forth out of the water is in the likeness of the Resurrection of the dead in coming forth out of their graves; hence, this ordinance was instituted to form a relationship with the ordinance of Baptism for the dead, being in likeness of the dead. [13]Consequently the Baptismal Font was instituted as a simile of the grave, and was commanded to be in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble to shew forth the living and the dead;34 and that all things may have their likeness, and that they may accord one with another; that which is earthly, conforming to that which is heavenly as Paul hath declared 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 verses 46, 47 & 48 [14]Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward [p. 4] that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as are the records on the earth in relation to your dead which are truly made out so also are the records in Heaven This therefore is the sealing and binding power, and in one sense of the word the keys of the kingdom which consists in the key of knowledge.35 [15]And now my dearly and beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you36 that there are principals in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation; For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation see as Paul says concerning the fathers “That they without us can not be made perfect”;37 Neither can we without our dead be made perfect. [16]And now in relation, to the baptism for the dead I will give you another quotation of Paul 1 Corinthians 15 chap— verses 29 “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead.” [17]And again in connexion with this quotation I will give you a quotation from one of the Prophets which had his eye fixid on the restoration of the priesthood the glories to be revealed in the last days, and in an especial <manner>38 this most glorious of all subjects belonging to the everlasting gospel viz the baptism for the dead, for Malachi says last Chapter verses 5th & 6. [“]Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the [p. 5] earth with a curse”. [18]I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain, to suit my purpose as it stands.39 It is sufficient to know in this case that the earth will be smitten with a curse, unless there is a welding link of some kind or other, between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other. And behold, what is that subject. It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they, or us, be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times;40 which dispensation is now beginning to usher in that a whole, and compleat, and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations and keys and powers and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time;41 and not only this, but that those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this the dispensation of the fulness of times.42 [19]Now what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? a voice of gladness! a voice of mercy from heaven! & a voice of truth out of the earth,43 glad tidings for the dead; A voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy; How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things; and that say unto Zion, behold! thy God reigneth44 as the dews of Carmel45 so shall the [p. 6] knowledge of God descend upon them. [20]And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah!46 Moroni, An Angel from heaven,47 declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—48 the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Senneca County, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book.49 A voice The voice of Michael50 on the banks of the Susquehanna detecting the devil51 when he appeared as an Angel of light.52 The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between <Harmony> Susquehanna <County> and Colesville, Broom County; on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times.53 [21]And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmerss [Peter Whitmer Sr.’s]54 in Fayette, Senneca County and at sundry times, and in sundry <divers> places, through[ou]t all the travels, and tribulations, of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And the voice of Michael the Archangel,55 the voice of Gabriel,56 and of Raphael,57 and of divers Angels from Michael or Adam,58 down to the present time; all declaring each one their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty & glory, and the power of their priesthood;59 giving line upon line; precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.60 Giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come and confirming our hope.

[22]Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause Go forward and not backward. Courage brethren; and on—on to the victory. Let your hearts rejoice [p. 7] and be exceeding glad. Let the earth break forth into singing.61 Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the king Immanuel; who hath ordained before the world was that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prisons; for the prisoner shall go free. [23]Let the mountains shout for joy and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye Seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your eternal king. And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods, and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks, leap weep for joy.62 And let all creation63 And let the Sun, Moon and <the morning> Stars, strike hands64 <sing> together and let all the sons of God shout for joy.65 And let the eternal creations declare his name for-ever and ever. And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear, from heaven proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities66 and powers.67 [24]Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand, and who can abide the day of his coming and who can stand when he appeareth for he is like a refiners fire and like fullers soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi and purge them as Gold & silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness68 Let us therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter Day saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.69 And let us, present in his Holy Temple when it is finished, a book, containing the Records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation. [p. 8]

[25]Brethren, I have many things to say to you on the subject; but shall now close for the present and continue on the subject another time

I am as ever your <humble> servant and never deviating friend

70Joseph Smith [3/4 page blank] [p. 9]


Willm. Clayton


Hancock Co