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disobedience and wilful rejection of the Gospel had incurred bodily destruction, and imprisonment of their undying spirits throughout the centuries from Noah to Christ. Unto them the disembodied Savior went and preached the Gospel. They were therefore alive, possessed of understanding, and capable of accepting or again rejecting the Gospel of salvation.
Yet they were all numbered among the dead as man counts the departed; and for that matter so was the Christ, for His visitation to those "spirits in prison" was made during the interval of His death on the cross and His emergence from the tomb with spirit and body reuniteda resurrected Soul.
The Nephite prophet Alma set forth in words of inspired plainness the continuity of intelligent existence after death: "Now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection. Behold, it has been made known unto me, by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body; yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise; a state of rest; a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked; yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful, looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection." (Book of Mormon, Alma 40.)
And as to the individual existence in and after the resurrection, the same revelator has given us this Scripture: "Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death:
and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death. The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt. Now this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous." (Alma 11.)
BEYOND THE GRAVE
Repentance Possible Even There
N view of scriptural affirmation that between His death
and resurrection Christ visited and ministered to the spirits who had been disobedient, and who, because of unexpiated sins were still held in duress, it is pertinent to inquire as to the object and scope of the Savior's ministry among them. (See 1 Peter 3:18-19; and 4:6.)
His preaching "to the spirits in prison" must have been purposeful and positive. Moreover, it is not to be assumed that His message was other than one of relief and mercy. Those to whom He went had long been in a state of durance, deprivation and suffering. To them came the Redeemer to preach, not to further condemn, to show them the way that led to light, not to intensify the darkness of their despair.
Had not that visit of deliverance been long predicted? Centuries earlier Isaiah had voiced the word of Jehovah
concerning the state of proud and wicked spirits: "And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited." (Isa. 24:22; see also 42:6, 7.) David, conscious of his own transgression, but thrilled with contrition and hope, sang in measures of mingled sorrow and joy: "Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell." (Psa. 16:9-10.)
Inasmuch as Christ preached the Gospel to the dead, His ministry must have included the affirmation of His own atoning death, the inculcation of faith in Himself and in the whole plan of salvation, which includes as a fundamental essential, contrite repentance acceptable unto God.
Peter specifies the purpose of the Savior's introduction of the Gospel to departed spirits as "that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Pet. 4-6.) Through latter-day revelation we learn that among the inhabitants of the terrestrial world, or lesser kingdom of glory, are "they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:73-74.)
Progression, then, is possible beyond the grave. Advancement is eternal. Were it otherwise, Christ's ministry among the disembodied would be less than fable and fiction. Equally repugnant is the thought that though the Savior preached faith, repentance and other principles of the Gospel to the imprisoned sinners in the realm of spirits, their compliance was impossible.
It is not difficult to conceive of disembodied spirits be
ing capable of faith and repentance. Death has not destroyed their status as individual intelligences. As they hear the glad tidings of the Gospel some will accept, and others, the obstinate and rebellious, will reject and for a further period will have to languish in prison.
Besides the principles of the Gospel there are certain ordinances involving material works, which are indispensable to salvation. Among these the Scriptures specify baptism by immersion in water, and the reception of the Holy Ghost by the imposition of authorized hands. How can a man be baptized when he is dead? The answer is that the necessary ordinances may be administered vicariously for the dead to their living representatives in the body. Thus, as a man may be baptized in his own person for himself, he may be baptized as proxy for his ancestral dead. Herein we find point and explanation of Paul's challenging question to the doubting Corinthians: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Cor. 15:29.)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirms that the Divine plan of salvation is not bounded by the grave; but that the Gospel is deathless and everlasting, reaching back through all the ages that have sped, and forward into the eternities of the future. Vicarious service by the living in behalf of the dead is in line with and a result of the supreme vicarious sacrifice embodied in the Atonement wrought by the Savior of the world.
Largely for the administration of ordinances in behalf of the dead the Latter-day Saints build and maintain Temples, wherein the living posterity enter the waters of baptism and receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, as representatives of their departed progeni
tors. This labor was foretold through Malachi as a necessary and characteristic feature of the last dispensation, preceding the advent of Christ in glory and judgment. Thus, the dead fathers and living children are turned toward one another in the affection of a kinship that is to endure throughout eternity. (See Mal. 4:5-6.)
We solemnly aver that on April 3, 1836, Elijah the ancient prophet came to earth and committed unto the restored Church the authority and commission to administer in behalf of the dead. (See Doctrine and Covenants 110: 13-16.)
OPPORTUNITY HERE AND HEREAFTER
Free Agency and Its Results
EPENTANCE and other good works, whereby the saving grace of Christ's Atonement may be made of individual effect for the remission of sins, are possible to the dead; and furthermore, the required ordinances of the Gospel may be administered to the living in behalf of the departed.
Let it not be assumed that the doctrine of vicarious labor for the disembodied implies, even remotely, that the administration of ordinances in behalf of the dead operates in the least degree to interfere with the right of choice and the free exercise of agency on their part. They are at liberty to accept or reject ministrations intended for their benefit; and so they will accept or reject in accord with their penitent or unregenerate condition, even as is the case with those whom the Gospel message reaches in mortality.