As feverishly as the Latter-day Saints labored in the early 1840s to finish the Nauvoo Temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith worked to unfold the essential doctrines that would give meaning to the temple's existence. This was especially so during the months prior to his death on June 27, 1844.
In a proclamation to the Church dated Jan. 1, 1845, Parley P. Pratt gave this recollection of the Prophet's words: "I know not why; but for some reason I am constrained to hasten my preparations, and to confer upon the Twelve all the ordinances, keys, covenants, endowments, and sealing ordinances of the priesthood, and so set before them a pattern in all things pertaining to the sanctuary and the endowment therein." (Millennial Star, March 1845, p. 151.)
Thus, as historian Glen M. Leonard wrote: "By the time the saints dispersed from the City of Peace, new revelation enunciating a theology that gave meaning to the temple had expanded the doctrinal basis of their religion." (Nauvoo, a Place of Peace, a People of Promise, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002, p. 216.)
Indeed, it is perhaps the doctrines unfolded in Nauvoo and associated with the temple that most distinguish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from other Christian faiths. The doctrines include the following:
- Baptism for the dead. This doctrine, alluded to in 1 Corinthians 15:29, was first announced to the Church by the Prophet in a sermon at the funeral of Seymour Brunson on Aug. 10, 1840. So eager were the Latter-day Saints to implement this teaching on behalf of their deceased relatives that they began immediately to perform such baptisms in the Mississippi River or in nearby streams. The following January, the Lord gave a revelation to Joseph Smith commanding that the temple be built and clarifying that baptism for the dead must take place in such an edifice except when the poverty of the Saints precluded it.
- The Endowment. The sealing keys of the priesthood for sacred ordinances of salvation were restored at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, but this restoration would not culminate until the Nauvoo period, when the sacred endowment was taught by the Prophet. He introduced this ordinance to a trusted few in the upper room of his red brick store on May 4, 1842. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 237.)
In the ensuing months, more people received this sacred blessing and the Twelve were given particular instruction regarding administration of the endowment. Brigham Young reported that Joseph told him, "Brother Brigham, this is not arranged right. But we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies." (See Journal of L. John Nuttal, Vol. 1, pp. 18-19, quoted in Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999, p. 97.)
- Revelations on eternal marriage and exaltation. It was in Nauvoo that the divine teachings on the eternity of the marriage covenant and the family unit were unfolded by the Prophet, although, as the heading to Doctrine and Covenants 132 notes, the principles had been known to him since 1831.
Recorded July 12, 1843, the revelation contains "the new and everlasting covenant" of marriage for eternity and the conditions of that covenant. It teaches that the continuation of the family unit makes it possible for mortals to become as God, with eternal increase and exaltation.
- Other doctrines. It is estimated that the Prophet Joseph Smith preached nearly 200 public discourses during the Nauvoo years from 1839 to his death in 1844. He taught that the Father and the Son each has a body of flesh and bones, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. He spoke of the conditions attendant to the Second Coming of Christ. And in the famous King Follett funeral discourse of April 1844, he taught the nature of God.
In the spring of 1842, Joseph translated the Book of Abraham from fragments of ancient Egyptian papyrus that had come into his possession, thus giving the world additional scripture and the doctrines contained therein.
And it was about that time, in a letter to John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, Joseph penned the list of 13 statements of belief that were later canonized as the Articles of Faith.
In that same letter, Joseph gave the declaration, quoted so often since then, that seemed to set the stage for the events that would follow the Nauvoo period in the latter-day dispensation: "The standard of truth has been erected. No unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing. Persecutions may rage; mobs may combine; armies may assemble, calumny many defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say, 'The work is done.' " (History of the Church 4:536.)
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