Literary DCGD #30: Dedication Hymn

August 4, 2013 | 2 comments
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William Wines PhelpsOur doctrine of performing ordinances on behalf of the dead is unusual among the religions of the world. Many religions pray for the dead, Mormonism actively performs the same saving ordinances that the living must have.

These teachings were introduced during the Nauvoo period, and baptisms for the dead were performed in the Mississippi at that time, until the basement of the Temple was complete and ordinances could be performed there. At that point Mormonism learned that these ordinances belonged in the Temple, and this understanding was captured in the following poem by William Wines Phelps, written for the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple in 1846:

William Wines Phelps was one of the first and most prolific of Mormon poets, although unlike his contemporaries Parley P. Pratt, Eliza R. Snow and John Lyon, Phelps never published a volume of his own poetry. He is also unique because he is likely the author of the only poem, outside of scripture, attributed to Joseph Smith (The Vision, a paraphrase of D&C 76). If I recall correctly, he is still the Mormon author with the most hymns in the current hymnal. This hymn was included in the many LDS hymnals in the 19th century, but was dropped before the current hymnal.

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Dedication Hymn

By W. W. Phelps

Ho, ho, for the Temple’s completed,—
The Lord hath a place for his head,
And the priesthood, in power, now lightens
The way of the living and dead!

 

See, see, ‘mid the world’s dreadful splendor
Christianity, folly and sword,
The Mormons, the diligent Mormons,
Have rear’d up this house to the Lord!—

 

By the spirit and wisdom of Joseph-
(Whose blood stains the honor of State,)
By tithing and sacrifice daily,
The poor learn the way to be great.

 

Mark, mark, for the Gentiles are fearful
Where the work of the Lord is begun;
Already this monument finish’d,
Is counted—one miracle done!

 

Gaze, gaze, at the flight of the righteous,
From the “fire shower of ruin” at hand,
Their pray’rs, and their suff’rings, are wrathing
Jehovah to sweep off the land!

 

Sing, sing, for the hour of redemption,
The day for the poor Saint’s reward,
Is coming for temp’ral enjoyment,
All shining with crowns from the Lord!

 

Watch, watch, for the blessing of Jesus,
Is richer the farther it’s fetch’d;—
The wonderful chain of our union
Is tighten’d the longer it’s stretch’d!

 

Shout, shout, for the armies of heaven,
Will purify earth at a word,
And the “Twelve, with the Saints that are faithful,
“ENTER INTO THE JOYS OF THEIR LORD!”

Times and Seasons, 15 February 1846, p. 1135

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I like Phelps’ way of describing Temple work: “the priesthood, in power, now lightens / The way of the living and dead!” But beyond this mention, Phelps doesn’t go to much into work for the dead. He does, however, put Nauvoo Temple work in context. He sees this work as ennobling, for the teachings introduced by the then recently martyred Joseph Smith bring greatness (at least to the poor—I’m not sure where this leaves the rich):

By the spirit and wisdom of Joseph-
(Whose blood stains the honor of State,)
By tithing and sacrifice daily,
The poor learn the way to be great.

He also mentions the exodus to the west, which was, at the time this was written, already in process:

Gaze, gaze, at the flight of the righteous,
From the “fire shower of ruin” at hand,

And while that “fire shower of ruin” increased to the point that the Temple had to be abandoned, still Phelps saw value in what it gave the members of the Church:

Shout, shout, for the armies of heaven,
Will purify earth at a word,
And the “Twelve, with the Saints that are faithful,
“ENTER INTO THE JOYS OF THEIR LORD!”

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2 Responses to Literary DCGD #30: Dedication Hymn

  1. CarlH on August 8, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Thanks for finding and posting this. I love the triumphalist tone, complete with an in-your-face jab at “Christianity” in contrast to “The Mormons.” It also looks like W.W. felt that his strong feelings about the stain of Joseph’s blood embodied a sentiment worth repeating (but removed years ago from “Praise to the Man” in the hymnal). We may recoil from such notions, especially when set down in writing and even celebrated, sanitized as we have become with the passage of time and a remoteness from events so vivid in the disrupted lives of the Nauvoo Saints.

  2. Cameron N on August 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks Kent. This context and content is awesome.