Sunday School: Gospel Doctrine
Lesson 39: ‘The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn to Their Fathers’

“Lesson 39: ‘The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn to Their Fathers’” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999), 226–31

“Lesson 39,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine, 226–31

Lesson 39

“The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn to Their Fathers”


To help class members understand the need to seek out their ancestors and receive priesthood ordinances in their behalf.


  1. Prayerfully study the following scriptures and other materials:

    1. Doctrine and Covenants 2; 110:13–16; 138; Joseph Smith—History 1:37–39.

    2. Our Heritage, pages 98–99, 101–2, 105–7.

  2. Review the material for this lesson in the Class Member Study Guide (35686). Plan ways to refer to the material during the lesson.

  3. To gain a greater understanding of historical events related to the doctrine in this lesson, consider reviewing the following:

    1. “Susa Young Gates and the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead.”

    2. “Ministry of Wilford Woodruff: The Work of the Temple.”

    3. “Ministry of Joseph F. Smith: A Vision of the Redemption of the Dead.”

    4. Additional historical material for this lesson.

  4. In advance, give the following assignments:

    1. Ask a class member to prepare to summarize the story about Bishop Henry Ballard and his daughter from Our Heritage, page 99.

    2. Ask another class member to prepare to report briefly on the revelation that President Wilford Woodruff received about tracing our family histories and sealing children to their parents (see the second full paragraph on page 101 of Our Heritage).

    3. Ask one or two class members to prepare to talk briefly about their experiences in providing priesthood ordinances for the dead. Invite these class members to tell how they have felt toward the people for whom they have provided these ordinances.

    4. Ask a class member to prepare to report briefly on President Joseph F. Smith’s prophecy that the time would come when the land would “be dotted with temples” (see the last full paragraph on page 106 of Our Heritage).

  5. If the following pictures are available, prepare to use them during the lesson: Elijah Restores the Power to Seal Families for Eternity (Gospel Art Picture Kit 417); Wilford Woodruff (Gospel Art Picture Kit 509); Joseph F. Smith (Gospel Art Picture Kit 511); and Gordon B. Hinckley (63001; Gospel Art Picture Kit 520). Rather than using the individual pictures of Presidents Woodruff, Smith, and Hinckley, you could use the picture Latter-day Prophets (62575; Gospel Art Picture Kit 506).

Suggestions for Lesson Development

Attention Activity

As appropriate, share the following story or use an activity of your own to begin the lesson.

Frederick William Hurst was working as a gold miner in Australia when he first heard Latter-day Saint missionaries preach the restored gospel. He and his brother Charles were baptized in January 1854. He tried to help his other family members become converted, but they rejected him and the truths he taught.

Fred settled in Salt Lake City four years after joining the Church, and he served faithfully as a missionary in several different countries. He also worked as a painter in the Salt Lake Temple. In one of his final journal entries, he wrote:

“Along about the 1st of March, 1893, I found myself alone in the dining room, all had gone to bed. I was sitting at the table when to my great surprize my elder brother Alfred walked in and sat down opposite me at the table and smiled. I said to him (he looked so natural): ‘When did you arrive in Utah?’

“He said: ‘I have just come from the Spirit World, this is not my body that you see, it is lying in the tomb. I want to tell you that when you were on your mission you told me many things about the Gospel, and the hereafter, and about the Spirit World being as real and tangible as the earth. I could not believe you, but when I died and went there and saw for myself I realized that you had told the truth. I attended the Mormon meetings.’ He raised his hand and said with much warmth: ‘I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart. I believe in faith, and repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, but that is as far as I can go. I look to you to do the work for me in the temple. … You are watched closely. … We are all looking to you as our head in this great work. I want to tell you that there are a great many spirits who weep and mourn because they have relatives in the Church here who are careless and are doing nothing for them” (Diary of Frederick William Hurst, comp. Samuel H. and Ida Hurst [1961], 204).

Explain that in this lesson you will discuss the redemption of the dead by briefly studying the work of four prophets: Elijah, President Wilford Woodruff, President Joseph F. Smith, and President Gordon B. Hinckley. The purpose of this lesson is to gain a greater understanding of the need to redeem the dead. The next lesson discusses some ways we can participate in temple and family history work.

Discussion and Application

Prayerfully select the lesson materials that will best meet class members’ needs. Encourage members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

1. Elijah: “The keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands.”

Teach and discuss D&C 2; 110:13–16; 138:47–48; Joseph Smith—History 1:37–39. Display the picture of Elijah restoring the sealing power of the priesthood.

  • When the angel Moroni came to Joseph Smith, he said that Elijah would “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” (D&C 2:2; Joseph Smith—History 1:39). In this prophecy, the word fathers refers to our ancestors. What promises were made to our ancestors?

    President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “What was the promise made to the fathers that was to be fulfilled in the latter days by the turning of the hearts of the children to their fathers? It was the promise of the Lord made through Enoch, Isaiah, and the prophets, to the nations of the earth, that the time should come when the dead should be redeemed” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:154).

    Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “God made those promises to the ancient patriarchs—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so forth—and we undoubtedly made them to our own lineal fathers and mothers, those who came to earth before the gospel was restored but whom we promised to provide its saving ordinances” (Christ and the New Covenant [1997], 297).

  • On 3 April 1836 in the Kirtland Temple, the prophet Elijah appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. What was Elijah’s purpose in visiting Joseph and Oliver? (See D&C 110:13–16; see also D&C 2; Joseph Smith—History 1:38–39. He conferred the sealing power of the priesthood on Joseph Smith. This power makes possible eternal marriage, sealings to parents, and temple ordinance work for the dead.)

  • Read Joseph Smith—History 1:37–39 and D&C 138:47–48 with class members. Why would the earth be “utterly wasted at [the Lord’s] coming” if we did not have the sealing power? (One of the primary purposes of life on earth is to establish eternal family relationships. Without the sealing power, this would be impossible.)

    Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that without the sealing power, “no family ties would exist in the eternities, and indeed the family of man would have been left in eternity with ‘neither root [ancestors] nor branch [descendants].’ Inasmuch as … a sealed, united, celestially saved family of God is the ultimate purpose of mortality, any failure here would have been a curse indeed, rendering the entire plan of salvation ‘utterly wasted’” (Christ and the New Covenant, 297–98).

2. President Wilford Woodruff: “Somebody has got to redeem them.”

Display the picture of President Wilford Woodruff. Explain that President Woodruff was devoted to the work of redeeming the dead and sealing families for eternity. During his ministry, many members of the Church served genealogical missions, and in 1894 the First Presidency directed the organization of a genealogical society (Our Heritage, page 101). According to Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, “events of that historic year [1894] established family history research and temple service as one work in the Church” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 114; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 85).

Use the following stories to teach about the urgency of temple work for the dead and the need for us to be sealed to our parents and ancestors.

The urgency of temple work for the dead

Ask the assigned class member to summarize the story about Bishop Henry Ballard and his daughter from Our Heritage, pages 98–99.

Explain that for a period of time, President Woodruff served as president of the temple in St. George, Utah. It was in that temple that endowments for the dead were performed for the first time in this dispensation (see Doctrines of Salvation, 2:171). While serving there, President Woodruff was visited by the spirits of many “eminent men” who had died. Invite a class member to share the following account by President Woodruff:

“The spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, ‘You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we … remained true to it and were faithful to God.’ These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence [of the United States of America], and they waited on me for two days and two nights. … I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McAllister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [1946], 160–61).

  • What can we learn from these two stories? (Answers could include that those who are dead are anxious for us to perform ordinances for them and that we should be diligent in our efforts to redeem the dead.)

While serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Wilford Woodruff taught: “For the last eighteen hundred years, the people that have lived and passed away never heard the voice of an inspired man, never heard a Gospel sermon, until they entered the spirit-world. Somebody has got to redeem them, by performing such ordinances for them in the flesh as they cannot attend to themselves in the spirit, and in order that this work may be done, we must have Temples in which to do it” (in Journal of Discourses, 19:228–29).

The need for us to be sealed to our parents and ancestors

Have the assigned class member report on the revelation that President Woodruff received about tracing our family histories and sealing children to their parents (Our Heritage, page 101).

  • What does this revelation teach about families? How does the revelation help fulfill the prophecy about turning the hearts of the children to their fathers?

3. President Joseph F. Smith: “The eyes of my understanding were opened.”

Read or share in your own words the following statement by President Woodruff:

“President [Brigham] Young, who followed President Joseph Smith, … laid the foundation of [the Salt Lake Temple], as well as others in the mountains of Israel. What for? That we might carry out these principles of redemption for the dead. He accomplished all that God required at his hands. But he did not receive all the revelations that belong to this work; neither did President [John] Taylor, nor has Wilford Woodruff” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 153–54).

Display the picture of President Joseph F. Smith. Explain that President Smith, the sixth President of the Church, received a revelation that helped the work of redeeming the dead continue to move forward. On 4 October 1918, just weeks before his death, he said in general conference:

“I have been undergoing a siege of very serious illness for the last five months. … I have not lived alone these five months. I have dwelt in the spirit of prayer, of supplication, of faith and of determination; and I have had my communication with the Spirit of the Lord continuously” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1918, 2).

The day before President Smith made this statement, he had received a revelation that would expand the Saints’ understanding of the redemption of the dead. This revelation is now section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a record of the Savior’s visit to the spirit world while His body was in the tomb.

  • What was President Smith doing when he received the vision of the redemption of the dead? (See D&C 138:1–11. He was pondering the scriptures and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As he pondered, he was led to read 1 Peter 3 and 1 Peter 4, which include information about Jesus’ ministry in the postmortal spirit world.)

  • Read D&C 138:12–19 with class members. Whom did the Savior visit in the spirit world? (Answers include those listed below. You may want to summarize them on the chalkboard.)

    The Savior went to the spirits who:

    1. “Had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” (D&C 138:12).

    2. “Had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God” (D&C 138:13).

    3. “Had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name” (D&C 138:13).

    4. “Had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ” (D&C 138:14).

    5. “Were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand” (D&C 138:15).

  • To whom did the Savior not go? (See D&C 138:20–21.) What did the Savior do so the gospel could be preached to “those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth”? (See D&C 138:27–37. He organized the righteous spirits and commissioned them to teach those who had not yet accepted the gospel.) Who preaches the gospel in the spirit world today? (See D&C 138:57.)

  • Read D&C 138:22–24, 57–59 with class members. Ask them to look for differences between those in the spirit world who have been faithful in the testimony of Jesus and those who have not. What do these verses teach about the importance of teaching the gospel in the spirit world? How do these verses make you feel about your responsibility to provide priesthood ordinances for the dead?

    Ask the assigned class members to talk briefly about their experiences and feelings as they have provided ordinances for the dead (see “Preparation,” item 3c).

4. President Gordon B. Hinckley: “We are determined … to take the temples to the people.”

Have the assigned class member report on President Joseph F. Smith’s prophecy that the time would come when the land would “be dotted with temples” (Our Heritage, page 106).

Display the picture of President Gordon B. Hinckley. Explain that President Hinckley is another prophet who has expanded our understanding of temple work. When he became President of the Church in 1995, there were 47 temples in operation. About two and one-half years later, he made the following announcement:

“There are many areas of the Church that are remote, where the membership is small and not likely to grow very much in the near future. Are those who live in these places to be denied forever the blessings of the temple ordinances? While visiting such an area a few months ago, we prayerfully pondered this question. The answer, we believe, came bright and clear.

“We will construct small temples in some of these areas, buildings with all of the facilities to administer all of the ordinances. They would be built to temple standards, which are much higher than meetinghouse standards. They would accommodate baptisms for the dead, the endowment service, sealings, and all other ordinances to be had in the Lord’s house for both the living and the dead. …

“… We are determined … to take the temples to the people and afford them every opportunity for the very precious blessings that come of temple worship” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1997, 68–69; or Ensign, Nov. 1997, 49–50).

In April 1998, President Hinckley announced a goal to have 100 temples in operation by the end of the century (see Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 115; or Ensign, May 1998, 88).

  • How has the increase in temple construction affected you? How has it affected others you know? (You may want to point out how many people would not be enjoying the blessings of the temple if President Hinckley had not received the revelation to accelerate the building of temples.) How will the accelerated building of temples affect those who have died without receiving the gospel?


Emphasize that no people in history have ever had the opportunity to do so much for so many people as we do today. Explain that the next lesson will include discussion about specific ways to participate in temple and family history work. As directed by the Spirit, testify of the importance of temple and family history work.

Additional Teaching Idea

You may want to use the following idea to supplement the suggested lesson outline.

Youth participation in temple work

If you are teaching youth, encourage them to participate in temple work by being baptized for the dead. If you are teaching adults, suggest that parents help their children participate in temple work. Consider sharing the following story told by Elder J Ballard Washburn of the Seventy:

“After a stake conference, I was talking with a family with teenage children. I said to them, ‘You must live righteously so that someday you can go to the temple with your parents.’ A sixteen-year-old daughter responded, ‘Oh, we go to the temple with our parents almost every week. We go and do baptisms for our family file names.’ I thought, What a wonderful thing, for families to go to the temple together” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 12; or Ensign, May 1995, 11).

  • In what other ways can youth help further the work done in temples? (Answers could include that they can do family history research and support their parents’ efforts to attend the temple.)