Orson Hyde blazes the trail for every Temple and Family History consultant ever since.
On baptism for the dead.
We have received the word of the Lord on this subject, explaining to us the nature and character of it to our utmost satisfaction. Although the scriptures are almost completely silent concerning this ecclesiastic practice, there are sufficient allusions to it in them to draw our attention to the fact that this practice was neither unknown nor neglected in the ancient church. But if it had not pleased the Lord in His great kindness to clearly show us the apposite peculiarities of this subject, we would never have discovered its beauty through the faint glimmer that the scriptures cast upon it.(1)
There are many who have died without ever having had an opportunity to be properly baptized (immersed) during their lifetime by any authorized person whom the Lord has acknowledged. Therefore it has pleased our Heavenly Father to grant the members of the church the excellent privilege of being baptized for their deceased friends with whom they were personally acquainted before their death.(2) It is assumed in this, however, that they never had the opportunity to become acquainted with our doctrine and to follow it before their death, and did not do so – then we cannot be baptized for them.(3)
What is gained by doing this is the following. When the gospel is preached to the spirits of people in limbo who were disobedient to God’s commands in their lifetime, and when they are then inclined to repent and believe, then those who have been baptized for them can step forward on Judgment Day and claim them as heirs of the Kingdom of God and, united with them, enjoy a glory like that of the Sun. In this way we can become saviors of men, whereas if no one were baptized for these departed people, in all probability their sufferings would be prolonged, and they would one day inherit another abode whose glory is lesser, like the faint glimmer of a distant star.(4)
How must such a person feel on the day of judgment who was given the opportunity to do so much good in his life, both for himself and for others, and not to have done it?! Who will be so simple-minded, so slow to understand, and so bound to the traditions of the fathers, that he will not want to rise to the call of human kindness and prove himself awake to the tender feelings of sympathy and benevolence, both for himself and for others! The apostle St. Paul said in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, etc.: “What else would they do who are baptized for the sake of the dead, if it is certain that the dead will not be resurrected? Why are they baptized for them?”(5)
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(1) I was surprised to see baptism for the dead discussed in a missionary tract in 1842. That seems like a rapid timeline to go from revelation to practice to proselytizing. The rhetoric may not be fully developed, but it’s actually not far removed from what you might hear in sacrament meeting today.
(2) Here’s one difference: the emphasis today is on performing baptisms for deceased ancestors, rather than for personal acquaintances. I’m surprised that ancestors don’t play a more prominent role for Hyde.
(3) And another difference: the limitation to people who never had the chance to accept the restored gospel has faded. The idea is not unfamiliar, but there’s been no attempt to codify it in doctrine or practice. This leaves us with some tension between the urgency of accepting the gospel in this life and vicarious ordinances as an institution of divine mercy, but it saves us from having to decide who does and doesn’t qualify for baptism for the dead.
(4) This description of Judgment Day and the role of baptism for the dead seems surprisingly specific to me.
(5) But this paragraph could be posted unchanged on the door of a Family History Center.