Includes D&C 2; 110:13-16; 138; Joseph Smith-History 1:37-39; Our Heritage, pages 98-99, 101-02, 105-07.
Joseph Smith informs us that when Moroni made his historic visits to him on the night of September 21, 1823 the angelic minister quoted four Old Testament passages (Malachi 3 & 4:4-6; Isaiah 11; and Joel 2:28-32) and one from the New Testament (Acts 3:22-23). “Thus the Book of Mormon [was] introduced to Joseph Smith as [a fulfillment of] Bible prophecy. The two great doctrinal threads that bind the Book of Mormon together-the promises made to the fathers and the divine sonship of Christ-perfectly reflect the prophecy and teachings of the prophets of the Old World” (Joseph Fielding McConkie & Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 22).
In this way, Joseph knows right from the beginning of the restoration that the Lord is simply continuing His eternal work of redeeming families in this last dispensation. Thus, the very first “section” of the Doctrine and Covenants is Moroni’s latter-day rendering of Malachi’s promise that Elijah would return prior to the second coming. D&C 2 precedes any other section in the canon by nearly seven years (D&C 3 is dated in July of 1828). Elder John A. Widtsoe once declared, “The beginning and the end of the gospel is written in section two of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is the keystone of the wonderful gospel arch; and if that center stone should weaken and fall out, the whole gospel structure would topple down in unorganized doctrinal blocks” (cited in ElRay L. Christiansen, CR, April 1960, 48).
Planting the Promises Made to the Fathers
Moroni’s rendering of Malachi’s prophecy was different than we have recorded in the Old Testament. A side-by-side comparison reveals these differences:
Malachi 4:5-6 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; 6 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 earth with a curse.
D&C 2 BEHOLD, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 2 And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. 3 If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.
We note three significant changes:
First, Elijah is going to reveal the priesthood prior to the Lord’s second coming. “Moroni is saying not that the priesthood will be restored by Elijah but rather that its great function and purpose, which centers in the perpetuation of the family unit, will be revealed through the authority restored by Elijah (D&C 110:13-16)” (Revelations of the Restoration, 24). When Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple in 1836 he was restoring keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which priesthood Peter, James and John had already restored years earlier (see JS-H 1:72). These keys held the power within the priesthood to administer in ordinances that bind or seal families together beyond the grave in the eternal world. Joseph Smith would later explain, “for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete 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 this present time” (D&C 128:18).
Second, Moroni renders Malachi to read that there are promises made to the fathers that must be planted in their children’s hearts and through these the children will “turn to their fathers.” This is particularly instructive when we define whom the fathers and children are, as well as, specify what promises were made to them.
The “fathers” are specifically Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (D&C 27:10; see also Hel. 3:30).
The “children” are the latter-day saints as gathered Israel (D&C 86:8-11; 132:29-33; see also Abr. 2:10-11).
The “promises” are those contained in the Abrahamic Covenant (eternal promises of land, seed, and priesthood power/responsibility; see Abr. 2:6-11; also, Genesis 12:1-3, 17:1-22).
Thus the promise that fueled the ancients to lives of righteousness was that they would someday cease to be “strangers and pilgrims in the earth” (Heb. 11:13), instead becoming “fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household” (Eph. 2:19) of God’s eternal kingdom. No longer “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise” but “now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). This is the promise that we, as their children, should have ‘planted in our hearts’-to eternally enjoy the Lord’s choicest blessings of our families secured to us in the celestial kingdom and endowed with the godly powers of the priesthood. The mechanism provided by the Lord for this familial binding (D&C 13:2 calls it “sociality”) is the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood authorized to be exercised in the temples today (D&C 128:18; 132:7, 13-20).
Such is the vision that our forebears had; such is the vision that we must have if we will not perish-perish because we do not have that which is most precious and of greatest worth (Prov. 29:18).
Finally, Moroni’s revelation clarifies Malachi’s statement that the Lord will smite the earth with a curse. Unless we become imbued with this Abrahamic Covenant and seal ourselves with that “welding link” by the power and authority of God on the earth, our mortality must be considered “wasted” (D&C 2:3). “Moroni uses the phrase ‘utterly wasted’ relative to the purpose of the earth life rather than ‘a curse’ as used by Malachi. If we do not accomplish the primary purpose for which we came to mortality, namely the forming of an eternal family unit, we have wasted our lives on matters that are not of eternal importance” (Revelations of the Restoration, 24).
There will also be a literal curse measured out upon the latter-day world if fathers and children are not united through the gospel. Joseph Smith taught, “The servants of God will not have gone over the nations of the Gentiles, with a warning voice, until the destroying angel will commence to waste the inhabitants of the earth” (TPJS, 87). This destruction will happen partly through the satanic contention that will exist between family members. “The Prophet further taught that one reason this destruction would occur would be precisely because parents and children would be turned against each other. Joseph Smith was graphic in his description of the horrible warfare to be waged within families, saying: ‘I saw men hunting the lives of their own sons, and brother murdering brother, women killing their own daughters, and daughters seeking the lives of their mothers’ (Charles R. Harrell, in Robert L. Millet and Kent P.
Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants, 58; citing TPJS, 161).
“And I saw the Hosts of the Dead…”
Having set the stage for the whole purpose and design of the restoration, the Lord continued to reveal His plan for the exaltation of all his willing children through Joseph and later prophets. President Woodruff’s announcement that he’d received a revelation regarding the gathering of genealogies for the purpose of being “sealed to their parents” running “this chain through as far as you can get it” (cited in Our Heritage, 101) is a continuation of the theme and language of D&C 128. The fullest prophetic explanation to date is Joseph F. Smith’s grand vision of the post mortal spirit world. His experience in late 1918 stands as one of the greatest witnesses of the Lord’s mercy and ability to save his children.
Joseph F. Smith, as many in his and preceding generations, was acquainted with the poignant pains of physical suffering and death. “I lost my father when I was but a child, I lost my mother, the sweetest souls that ever lived, when I was only a boy. I have buried one of the loveliest wives that ever blessed the lot of man, and I have buried thirteen of my children” (Messages of the First Presidency, 4:311; cited in Bennett, Religious Educator, vol. 2 [no. 1], 115). Earlier in the 1918 President Smith was devastated by the death of his son Hyrum, then only forty-five and serving as an Apostle. Only a few months after that Hyrum’s wife also passed away. President Smith’s own health turned for the worse and he was constrained to rest in bed for much of that summer and fall.
During this time, Joseph F. Smith spent many hours in scripture study and gospel contemplation. In the October conference he reported, “I have not lived alone these last 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” (CR, Oct. 1918, 2). This all culminated in an unparalleled vision of the spirit world on October 3, 1918, when in his words “the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord [resting] upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great” (D&C 138:11).
It may be instructive to note President Smith’s description of his preparation for this vision. It included: pondering the scriptures (138:1), reflecting on the atonement of Christ and the love of God that manifests (vv. 2-3), following the Spirit’s promptings to search other scriptures (v. 5), actually turning to, reading and studying those additional passages (vv. 6-10) and further pondering (v.11; see also D&C 76:11-19).
While the knowledge the Jesus would provide a way for the salvation of those passed beyond the veil was had among the Latter-day Saints, indeed the seeds of that understanding were planted by Peter (1 Peter 3:18; 4:6) and prophesied of by Isaiah (Isaiah 42:7), the logistics of this post-mortal work were unknown (see also Catherine Thomas’ excellent article on the Savior’s “descent” into hell as conceived of by the early Christians; in Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas, Deseret Book, 2000, 122-44). The fact the Lord did not personally go among all the spirits there, particularly the wicked (D&C 138:20; also vv. 22, 25-30, 37) illuminates the scope and nature of ongoing efforts to save souls in the afterlife. Not only did the Lord organize, appoint, and commission “messengers clothed with power and authority to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men” from those present at the time of Jesus’ brief three-day ministry (D&C 138:30), but here we learn for the first time that “faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel” (138:57) as well.
Elder Orson F. Whitney further clarified the Lord’s plan of proxy work for salvation when he stated “The new light here thrown upon the subject proceeds from the declaration that when the Savior visited the inhabitants of the Spirit World, it was by proxy and not in person so far as the wicked were concerned. He ministered to the righteous directly, and to the unrighteous indirectly, sending to them His servants bearing the authority of the Priesthood and duly commissioned to speak and act in His name and stead” (Millennial Star, 20 Feb. 1919, 116; cited in Millet, “The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” Hearken O Ye People, Randall Book, 1984, 261).
Proxy Work in the Temples
Here we see the Lord’s gracious inclusion of us in his marvelous plan of salvation. Faithful servants-both mortals and those departed into the spirit world, are carrying on the Lord’s work for and in behalf of their brothers and sisters. Proxy work is being accomplished on both sides of the veil. The righteous who have passed are teaching and ministering to those in darkness and without the light of the everlasting gospel, as if the Savior himself were teaching and ministering. The righteous who are still in mortality are not only teaching and ministering to other mortals, but are under the divine mandate and privilege of participating in the saving ordinances of the Lord’s house for those departed souls being taught in the spirit world as if the person were present themselves. Oh how beautiful is the doctrine of proxy salvation. On the one hand, we can be proxy for the Savior as a preacher of His gospel (both in mortality and beyond the veil), and on the other hand, we can be the substitute for a brother or sister as a recipient of their saving ordinances-all of them. Joseph Smith taught, “It is not only necessary that you should be baptize for your dead, but you will have to go through all the ordinances for him, the same as you have gone through to save yourselves” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 336).
In a wonderful talk entitled “The Redemption of the Dead and the Testimony of Jesus” by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, he quoted President Hinckley as follows: “I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle” (“Excepts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 73; cited in CR, Oct. 2000).
We know that Jesus Christ has opened the way for the salvation of all mankind. We also know that His power extends beyond the grave and the attendant limits of mortality. What a humbling and exciting thing it is that the Lord-who has the power to do all things, chooses to include and involve me in His marvelous miracle of salvation-how I need to improve myself as a fit instrument in His hand!