Sermon given by Joseph Smith, Jr., March 20, 1842, Nauvoo, Illinois, in a grove on the west side of the Temple
(Based on the Wilford Woodruff Journal account in The Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 106-109)
A large assembly of Saints gathered together at an early hour to hear a discourse delivered upon the subject of baptism by Joseph the Seer; but as a young child was dead and his corpse presented in the assembly, it called for many remarks from the speaker upon death and the resurrection which were in the highest degree interesting, and his remarks upon baptism were truly glorious to the believer in Jesus Christ. The following is a brief synopsis of some of the items presented in the discourse:
The speaker read the 14th chapter of Revelation and said, "We have again the warning voice sounded in our midst which shows the uncertainty of human life; and in my leisure moments I have meditated upon the subject, and asked the question, 'Why is it that infants and innocent children are taken away from us, especially those that seem to be the most intelligent beings?' Answer: 'This world is a very wicked world and it is a proverb that the world grows weaker and wiser; but if that is the case, the world grows more wicked and corrupt. In the early ages of the world, a righteous man and a man of God and of intelligence had a better chance to do good and to be received and believed than at the present day. But in these days such a man is much opposed and persecuted by most of the inhabitants of the earth and he has much sorrow to pass through, hence the Lord takes many away even in infancy that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world--they were too lovely and too pure to live on earth. Therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning, we have reason to rejoice, as they are delivered from evil and we shall soon have them again.'
"What chance is there for infidelity when we are parting with our friends almost daily? None at all. The infidel will grasp at every straw for help until death stares him in the face, and then his infidelity takes its flight, for the realities of the eternal world are resting upon him in mighty power; and when every earthly support and prop fail him, he then sensibly feels the eternal truths of the immortality of the soul.
"Also the doctrine of baptizing children or sprinkling them or they must welter in hell, is a doctrine not true, not supported in holy writ, and is not consistent with the character of God. The moment that children leave this world, they are taken to the bosom of Abraham. The only difference between the old and young dying is, that one lives longer in heaven and in eternal light and glory than the other, and was freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope.
"We should take warning and not wait for the deathbed to repent: as we see the infant taken away by death, so may the youth and middle-aged as well as the infant suddenly be called into eternity. Let this then prove as a warning to all not to procrastinate repentance or wait until a death bed, for it is the will of God that man should repent and serve him in health and in the strength and power of his mind in order to secure his blessings, and not wait until he is called to die.
"My intention was to have treated upon the subject of baptism; but, having a case of death before us, I thought it proper to refer to that subject. I will now, however, say a few words upon baptism as intended. God has made certain decrees which are fixed and unalterable. For instance, God set the sun, the moon, the stars in the heavens, and gave them their laws, conditions, and bounds which they cannot pass except by his command. They all move in perfect harmony in their sphere and order, and are as wonders, lights, and signs unto us. The sea also has its bounds which it cannot pass. God set many signs in the earth as well as in heaven. For instance, the oaks of the forest, the fruit of the tree, and the herb of the field all bear a sign that seed hath been planted there; for it is a decree of the Lord that every tree, fruit, or herb bearing seed should bring forth after its kind, and cannot come forth after any other law or principle. Upon the same principle do I contend that baptism is a sign ordained of God for the believer in Christ to take upon himself in order to enter into the kingdom of God, for Except a man be born of water, and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,' saith the Savior; as it is a sign or command which God hath set for man to enter into this. Those who seek to enter in any other way will seek in vain, for God will not receive them, neither will the angels acknowledge their works as accepted; for they have not taken upon themselves those ordinances and signs which God ordained for man to receive in order to receive a celestial glory. And God has decreed that all who will not obey his voice shall not escape the damnation of hell. What is the damnation of hell? To go with that society who have not obeyed his commands.
"Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, to heaven, that we do the will of God and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come, and any other course is in vain. God hath decreed and ordained that man should repent of all his sins and be baptized for the remission of his sins; then he can come to God in the name of Jesus Christ in faith, then we have the promise of the Holy Ghost.
"What is the sign of the healing of the sick? The laying on of hands is the sign or way marked out by James and the custom of the ancient saints as ordered by the Lord. And we should not obtain the blessing by pursuing any other course except the way which God has marked out. What if we should attempt to get the Holy Ghost through any other means except the sign, or way, which God hath appointed? Should we obtain it? Certainly not. All other means would fail. The Lord says, do so and so and I will bless so and so.
"There are certain key words and signs belonging to the priesthood which must be observed in order to obtain the blessings. The sign of Peter was to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost, and in no other way is the gift of the Holy Ghost obtained.
"There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, and had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God would have left him until he obeyed those ordinances and received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, according to the order of God. He could not have healed the sick or commanded an evil spirit to come out of a man and it obey him; for the spirit might say to him as he did to the sons of Sceva, Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?
"It mattereth not whether we live long or short after we come to a knowledge of these principles and obey them. I know that all men will be damned if they do not come in the way which God has appointed.
"As concerning the resurrection, I will merely say that all men will come from the grave as they lie down; whether old or young, there will not be added unto their stature one cubit, neither taken from it.
"All beings raised by the power of God have the Spirit of God in their bodies and not blood. Children will be enthroned in the presence of God and the Lamb with bodies of the same stature that were on earth, having been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. They will there enjoy a fulness of that light, glory, and intelligence which is received in the celestial kingdom of God. 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.'"
The speaker before closing called upon the vast assembly before him to humble themselves in faith before God, and in mighty prayer and fasting to call upon His holy name until the elements were purified over our heads, and the earth sanctified under our feet, that the inhabitants of this city may escape the power of the disease, pestilence, and destroyer that rideth upon the face of the earth; and that the Holy Spirit of God may rest upon this vast multitude.
At the close of the meeting, President Smith informed the congregation that he should attend to the ordinance of baptism in the river near his house at two o'clock.