Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 27: Our Work Is to Save Souls

“Chapter 27: Our Work Is to Save Souls,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (2011), 240–48

“Chapter 27,” Teachings: Joseph F. Smith, 240–48

Chapter 27

Our Work Is to Save Souls

Our most important work is to labor for the salvation of the living and the dead.

From the Life of Joseph F. Smith

Throughout his life, Joseph F. Smith labored in the service of the kingdom of God, “ever anxious for the progress of the work of the Lord.”1 At the special conference when he was sustained as President of the Church, he exhorted the Saints: “It is our duty to take hold of the work vigorously, with full determination and purpose of heart to carry it on, with the help of the Lord, and in accordance with the inspiration of His Spirit, as it has been done in the past.”2

He encouraged the Saints in the growing number of wards and branches throughout the world to serve and bless others in whatever ways they could. While he was presiding over the mission in England, William Fowler, a member in Sheffield, presented what he had done to further the work of the kingdom of God. Brother Fowler, who had faced many trials and hardships when he joined the Church, had composed a hymn as an expression of his faith in the gospel and gratitude for what he had received. President Joseph F. Smith was in the meeting when it was sung for the first time. The hymn began with what have become familiar words for Latter-day Saints throughout the world: “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet” (Hymns, no. 19).

Joseph F. Smith appreciated the contribution of each faithful Saint to the Lord’s work and desired to spend his own life in service to all people, both the living and the dead. He loved to work in the temple, where he served as temple recorder; he supervised the temple work in the Endowment House; and he later became president of the Salt Lake Temple. The Genealogical Society of Utah, created in 1894, flourished under his administration. The life of Joseph F. Smith was a mission for the welfare and salvation of all people, a mission which he commended to the Saints: “There isn’t anything so great and so glorious in this world as to labor for the salvation of the living and for the redemption of the dead.”3

office of the Genealogical Society

The pre-1917 office of the Genealogical Society of Utah in Salt Lake City, a forerunner of today’s Family History Library. Left to right: Lillian Cameron, Joseph Christenson, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bertha Emery.

Teachings of Joseph F. Smith

We are here on earth to do God’s work.

He that sent his Only Begotten Son into the world to accomplish the mission which he did, also sent every soul within the sound of my voice, and indeed every man and woman in the world, to accomplish a mission, and that mission cannot be accomplished by neglect; nor by indifference; nor can it be accomplished in ignorance. We must learn our duty; learn the requirements that the Lord has made at our hands, and understand the responsibilities that he has placed upon us. We should learn the obligation that we are under to God and to each other, and that we are under also to the cause of Zion, that has been restored to the earth in the latter days.4

Let us remember that we are engaged in God’s work—and when I say God’s work, I mean that we are engaged in the work which the Almighty has instituted in the earth for our salvation individually. Every man should be laboring for his own good and as far as possible for the good of others. There is no such thing in the science of life as a man laboring exclusively for himself. We are not intended to be alone in time nor in eternity. Each individual is a unit in the household of faith, and each unit must feel his or her proportion of the responsibility that devolves upon the whole. Each individual must be diligent in performing his duty. By doing this, and keeping himself pure and unspotted from the world, he assists others to keep themselves pure and unspotted.5

[The gospel of Christ] is a living, daily religion, an hourly religion. It requires us to do right today, this hour, this week, this month and this year; and so on from year to year, to live our religion—which is the religion of Jesus Christ—of righteousness, of truth, of mercy, of love, forgiveness, kindness, union and peace on earth and good will to man and all the world. This is our mission.6

We have a glorious destiny before us; we are engaged in a glorious work. It is worth all our attention, it is worth our lives and everything the Lord has put into our possession, and then ten thousand times more. Indeed, there is no comparison, it is all in all, it is incomparable. It is all that is and all that ever will be. The gospel is salvation, and without it there is nothing worth having.7

We are each responsible to do all we can to gain our salvation.

Let us work out our salvation in fear and trembling before our Father, and be faithful to the end. Remember that you have enlisted in this work for time and for all eternity. There is no backing out of it, no falling away from it, except in sin, and then comes the penalty of transgression. But if you expect exaltation; if you expect fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, kindred and friends; if you expect glory, intelligence and endless lives, you must get them in God’s work; for nowhere outside can you get them. Therefore, let every sympathy and interest be centered in this cause. Let all your love go out toward this cause, and this alone. Let the world go.8

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, and it is absolutely necessary for every man and woman in the Church of Christ to work righteousness, to observe the laws of God, and keep the commandments that he has given, in order that they may avail themselves of the power of God unto salvation in this life.9

We believe it is necessary that men in this age should live and act and be in touch with God the Father and with the Son, and that they should know them, whom to know is eternal life. We believe in order to know them and be in touch with them it is necessary in this age that we should live as the Saints did in ancient times, so that we may enjoy the same blessings which they did, and be taught of Him day by day, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until we come to a knowledge of the Father and know Him for ourselves. It is impossible for me to know for you, or for any man to know for me. The Spirit of God does not reveal to you the Gospel, or bear witness to you of the Father, for me. I cannot save you; you cannot save me. No man can be a savior in this sense to any other man. Yet the man who has the testimony of the Spirit in his heart and who has a knowledge of the first principles of the Gospel may declare them to another, and by so declaring another soul may be convinced of the truth and be led to embrace it for himself. But it is his obedience to the Gospel and his own works of righteousness which save him, and not those of the man that bears testimony to him. It is only in this way that the man can be saved.10

You must not only believe, but you must obey and do the things that [God] commands. You must not only do that, but you must give your heart, your affection and your whole soul with a willing mind to God. You must give up your will to the will of the Father, and you must do all things that He requires at your hands, if you will be saved and exalted in His presence.11

We are to labor to save our own.

Oh! God, let me not lose my own. I can not afford to lose mine, whom God has given to me and whom I am responsible for before the Lord, and who are dependent upon me for guidance, for instruction, for proper influence. Father, do not permit me to lose interest in my own, in trying to save others. Charity begins at home. Life everlasting should begin at home. I should feel very badly to be made to realize, by and by, that through my neglect of home, while trying to save others, I have lost my own. I do not want that. The Lord help me to save my own, so far as one can help another. I realize I cannot save anybody, but I can teach them how to be saved. I can set an example before my children how they can be saved, and it is my duty to do that first. I owe it more to them than to anybody else in the world. Then, when I have accomplished the work I should do in my own home circle, let me extend my power for good abroad just as far as I can.12

Our mission in this world is to do good, to put down iniquity under our feet, to exalt righteousness, purity, and holiness in the hearts of the people, and to establish in the minds of our children, above all other things, a love for God and his word, that shall be in them as a fountain of light, strength, faith and power, leading them on from childhood to old age, and making them firm believers in the word of the Lord, in the restored gospel and Priesthood, and in the establishment of Zion, no more to be thrown down or given to another people. If there is anything that I desire above another in this world, it is that my children shall become established in this knowledge and faith, so that they can never be turned aside from it.13

A soul saved out in the world is as precious in the sight of God as a soul saved at home. But we have work to do right at home, at our own doors; and it will not do for us to neglect the work necessary to be done at our own thresholds, and then go out into the world to do work that is no more necessary. Let us do our duty everywhere.14

We are to labor for the salvation of the living and the dead.

Let us sustain Christ, his people, and his cause of righteousness and redemption; let us sustain one another in the right, and kindly admonish one another in regard to wrongdoing, that we may be friends and saviors on Mount Zion, one for another, and that we may help the weak and strengthen them, encourage the doubtful and bring light to their right understanding as far as it is possible, that we may be instrumental in the hands of God of being saviors among men. Not that we have power to save men. We have not; but we have power to show them how they can obtain salvation through obedience to the laws of God. We can show them how to walk in order to be saved, for we have the right to do that, we have knowledge and understanding as to how to do it, and it is our privilege to teach it … by example as well as by precept among our associates wherever we are in the world.15

Our mission has been to save men. We have been laboring … to bring men to a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to bring them to repentance, to obedience to the requirements of God’s law. We have been striving to save men from error, to persuade them to turn away from evil and to learn to do good.16

Our mission is to save, to preserve from evil, to exalt mankind, to bring light and truth into the world, to prevail upon the people of the earth to walk righteously before God, and to honor him in their lives.17

The test … of our soul’s greatness is … to be sought in our ability to comfort and console, our ability to help others, rather than in our ability to help ourselves and crowd others down in the struggle of life.18

We should always aim to help [others] to victory—not to defeat them! Our aim is life eternal—our object to lift up mankind—not to debase them.19

Our business is to save the world, to save mankind; to bring them into harmony with the laws of God and with principles of righteousness and of justice and truth, that they may be saved in the kingdom of our God, and become, eventually, through obedience to the ordinances of the gospel, heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. That is our mission.20

We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission. The dead are not perfect without us, neither are we without them. We have a mission to perform for and in their behalf; we have a certain work to do in order to liberate those who, because of their ignorance and the unfavorable circumstances in which they were placed while here, are unprepared for eternal life; we have to open the door for them, by performing ordinances which they cannot perform for themselves, and which are essential to their release from the “prison-house,” to come forth and live according to God in the spirit, and be judged according to men in the flesh.21

The work for our dead, which the Prophet Joseph laid upon us with more than ordinary injunction, instructing us that we should look after those of our kinfolk and our ancestors who have died without the knowledge of the gospel, should not be neglected. We should avail ourselves of those sacred and potent ordinances of the gospel which have been revealed as essential to the happiness, salvation and redemption of those who have lived in this world when they could not learn the gospel and have died without the knowledge of it, and are now waiting for us, their children, who are living in an age when these ordinances can be performed, to do the work necessary for their release from the prison-house. Through our efforts in their behalf their chains of bondage will fall from them, and the darkness surrounding them will clear away, that light may shine upon them and they shall hear in the spirit world of the work that has been done for them by their children here, and will rejoice with you in your performance of these duties.22

There is never a time, there never will come a time to those who hold the Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when men can say of themselves that they have done enough. So long as life lasts, and so long as we possess ability to do good, to labor for the upbuilding of Zion, and for the benefit of the human family, we ought, with willingness, to yield with alacrity to the requirements made of us to do our duty, little or great.23

Suggestions for Study

  • Why is it important to know that every person has been sent into the world “to accomplish a mission”? Why is it impossible for us to accomplish our missions by “laboring exclusively” for ourselves?

  • How can we make God’s work our work? Why is the work of the Lord worth “all our attention”? How should our choices reflect our commitment to the Lord’s work?

  • What must we do beyond believing and obeying to be “saved and exalted in [God’s] presence”? What does it mean to you to give “your heart, your affection and your whole soul with a willing mind to God”? After all our effort, how do we receive salvation? (See also 2 Nephi 25:23.)

  • What things should we seek to establish in the minds of our family members “above all other things”?

  • How can we strive to save our own and still fulfill our other service responsibilities? How can our service to others in the Church and elsewhere be a blessing to our family?

  • How can we seek “to exalt mankind”? What can we do to assist others to be faithful to the laws of God?

  • What can we do to remove the “chains of bondage” from those who have died without a knowledge of the gospel? How does it make you feel to know that the people you help “rejoice with you in your performance of these duties”?

  • Why is “the test … of our soul’s greatness” found in “our ability to help others”? Why do you think this is so? How and when have you made sacrifices for the good of others? How did you feel when you did this?


  1. In Conference Report, Oct. 1918, 2.

  2. In Conference Report, Oct. 1901, 69.

  3. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 460.

  4. Gospel Doctrine, 249.

  5. Gospel Doctrine, 115–16.

  6. Gospel Doctrine, 397.

  7. Gospel Doctrine, 84.

  8. Deseret Weekly, 5 May 1894, 608.

  9. Gospel Doctrine, 73.

  10. “Discourse by President Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star, 19 Sept. 1895, 596–97.

  11. Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 9 Aug. 1898, 1.

  12. Gospel Doctrine, 462.

  13. Gospel Doctrine, 141–42.

  14. Gospel Doctrine, 390.

  15. Gospel Doctrine, 255.

  16. Gospel Doctrine, 72.

  17. Gospel Doctrine, 73.

  18. Gospel Doctrine, 265.

  19. Joseph F. Smith to his son Hyrum M. Smith, 31 July 1896, in Truth and Courage: Letters of Joseph F. Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding McConkie (n.d.), 52.

  20. Gospel Doctrine, 150.

  21. Gospel Doctrine, 442.

  22. Gospel Doctrine, 469–70.

  23. Gospel Doctrine, 188.