Mosiah 18:9-30 — LeGrand Baker — the covenants of baptism

Mosiah 18:9-30 — LeGrand Baker — the covenants of baptism

(When I began writing this, I expected it would be an easy exercise in examining the symbolism of the ordinance of baptism. But it soon developed into an investigation of the ancient and modern practices of re-baptism – and then, in its conclusion, it brought me to new insights about the meaning of the sacrament. I hope it proves to be ad interesting to you as it was to me. )

The meaning of baptism is simple enough that a child can understand it, yet so complex and many faceted that an adult’s intellect is stretched to its edges even to begin to try to comprehend all of its ramifications. (But then, I suppose that is equally true of the other ordinances.) The symbolism of the baptism we receive covers the full range of the meanings of the atonement. Baptism represents the death brought about by Adam’s fall, a subsequent burial, and the resurrection brought about by the atonement. It symbolizes one’s adoption into the family of Christ, and is itself a pattern of a new birth, as the Saviour explained to Nicodemus. It is a cleansing from sin, and therefore denotes the ending of an old life as well as a new beginning. It is an official, somewhat legalistic, token of the covenant that admits one into membership of the Saviour’s Church and Kingdom, and is a necessary prerequisite to receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

Because baptism has such a wide range of possible symbolic meanings, the ordinance can be used as a token of a variety of covenants. Consequently, not all baptisms that are preformed by legitimate priesthood authority represent the same things, nor are they always tokens of the same covenants. The most important of all, is of course, for the remission of sins.

When John the Baptist gave Joseph and Oliver the authority to baptize, he was specific about both its meaning and its method:

1    Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins… (JS History 1:69) (Doctrine and Covenants 13:1.)

Joseph used those same words when he described baptism in the Articles of Faith:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Nevertheless, baptism also came to mean more than that. Joseph’s history records that he and Oliver baptized each other at the time John the Baptist ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. It also records that soon after that they baptized several other people. The third person baptized in this dispensation was Joseph’s younger brother Samuel. He records:

After a few days, however, feeling it to be our duty, we commenced to reason out of the Scriptures with our acquaintances and friends, as we happened to meet with them. About this time my brother Samuel H. Smith came to visit us. We informed him of what the Lord was about to do for the children of men, and began to reason with him out of the Bible. We also showed him that part of the work which we had translated, and labored to persuade him concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was now about to be revealed in its fulness. He was not, however, very easily persuaded of these things, but after much inquiry and explanation he retired to the woods, in order that by secret and fervent prayer he might obtain of a merciful God, wisdom to enable him to judge for himself. The result was that he obtained revelation for himself sufficient to convince him of the truth of our assertions to him; and on the twenty-fifth day of that same month in which we had been baptized and ordained, Oliver Cowdery baptized him; and he returned to his father’s house, greatly glorifying and praising God, being filled with the Holy Spirit.  {endnote #1}

Not long after that Hyrum Smith and others were also baptized. The circle expanded, and soon Joseph and Oliver were baptizing people who were not members of the Smith family.

We found the people of Seneca county in general friendly, and disposed to enquire into truth of these strange matters which now began to be noised abroad. Many opened their houses to us, in order that we might have an opportunity of meeting with our friends for the purpose of instruction and explanation. We met with many from time to time who were willing to hear us, and who desired to find out the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, and apparently willing to obey the Gospel, when once fairly convinced and satisfied in their own minds; and in this same month of June, my brother Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer, Jun., were baptized in Seneca lake, the two former by myself, the latter by Oliver Cowdery. From this time forth many became believers, and some were baptized whilst we continued to instruct and persuade as many as applied for information  {2}

In April, 1830, the Lord gave Joseph instructions to organize the Church, and in that revelation he also gave additional instruction about the ordinance of baptism.

37     And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church. (D&C 20:37)

These instructions make it clear that baptism was now to be a token of three distinct covenant relationships. It signified that:

1)   They “are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.”
2)   They have “truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins.”
3)    They “ shall be received by baptism into his church.”

Consistent with those instructions, on April 6, 1830, when the Church was officially organized, the people who had already been baptized for the remission of their sins were rebaptized as members of the church. But those in attendance who had not previously been baptized for the remission of sins, and were being baptized for the first time, were baptized both for the remission of sins and also to become members of the Church. Joseph records,

Several persons who had attended the above meeting, became convinced of the truth and came forward shortly after, and were received into the Church; among the rest, my own father and mother were baptized, to my great joy and consolation; and about the same time, Martin Harris and Orrin Porter Rockwell. {3}

The following statement is interesting as furnishing the names of these six: Names of the six members of the Church as they were organized April 6, 1830

Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, Jun., Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jun., Samuel H. Smith, David Whitmer.
Some of these had been baptized previously; but were all baptized on the day of organization.
These names were given to Joseph Knight by Oliver Cowdery.
(signed) Joseph Knight.
G. S. L. City, Aug. 11th, 1862.
Witnesses: G. A. Smith, Robt. L. Campbell, Thos. Bullock, John V. Long. {5}

A short time later, “in consequence of some desiring to unite with the Church without rebaptism, who had previously been baptized,” {4} Joseph received the revelation that is now Section 22. In it we learn that baptism “is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning. (D&C 22:1)

After the organization of the Church, rebaptisms were not at all uncommon. The ordinance was used for a number of important purposes, including a restoration of health. {6}

After the Saints got to Utah, and the United Order was established, people were baptized into that order. Wilford Woodruff reported,

On the 13th of July, [1875] in the evening, according to his journal, there was a priesthood meeting held in the old Tabernacle, where the subject of renewing covenants by baptism was discussed. The whole assembly voted to renew their covenants, and later the Presidency, the Twelve, the Seventies, and the Presiding Bishopric were baptized and entered into a special covenant to observe the rules of the United Order. Among them was this: “We will sustain home industry and patronize our brethren who are in the Order, as far as possible.” This movement became general throughout the Church. {7}

George Q. Cannon later remembered,

Under President Young’s administration, when action was being taken in regard to the United Order, he taught some of the brethren to use the words “into the United Order” in the ceremony of baptism. In the same way the words “for the renewal of your covenants” were used at the time of the Reformation in 1856.

It is always safe, however, for those who officiate in baptisms to confine themselves to the written word. The Lord has given the form, and unless there is some special occasion, when the man holding the keys suggests another form, it is unsafe and unwarranted to depart therefrom. {8}

In 1913, after the United Order had been discontinued, Charles W. Penrose reminded the Saints of the covenants the Saints had made when they entered the United Order through baptism.

A few days ago, in the Historian’s Office, I came across some doctrines and principles, rules of order that were laid down by the President of the Church for the obedience of the people at the time when we, all of us old members, entered into what was called the United Order, by baptism. Certain rules were given to us, and we agreed that we would abide by them. I thought it would be a very good thing to call the attention of the brethren and sisters to some of these rules, which I will do as briefly as I can, so as not to take up too much time; so that we may come back to some of these simple things that you and I covenanted to do, and see how they fit in with the instructions that were given to us this morning by President Smith:

First: We will not take the name of Deity in vain, nor speak lightly of His character or of sacred things….
Rule two: We will pray with our families morning and evening and also attend to secret prayers….
Rule three: We will observe and keep the Word of Wisdom, according to the spirit and meaning thereof….
Rule four: We will treat our families with due kindness and affection, and set before them an example worthy of imitation. In our families and intercourse with all persons, we will refrain from being contentious or quarrelsome, and we will cease to speak evil of each other, and will cultivate a spirit of charity towards all. We consider it our duty to keep from acting selfishly or from covetous motives, and will seek the interest of each other and the salvation of all mankind.” ….
“Rule five: We will observe personal cleanliness and preserve ourselves in all chastity, by refraining from adultery, whoredom and lust. We will also discountenance and refrain from all vulgar and obscene language or conduct….
“Rule six: We will observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, in accordance with the revelation….
“Rule seven: That which is committed to our care we will not appropriate to our own use….
“Rule eight: That which we borrow we will return according to promise, and that which we find we will not appropriate to our own use, but seek to return it to its proper owner….
“Rule eleven: In our apparel and deportment, we will not pattern after nor encourage foolish and extravagant fashions, and will cease to import or buy from abroad any article which can reasonably be dispensed With, or which can be produced by combination of home labor….
“Rule twelve: We will be simple in our dress and manner of living, using proper economy and prudence in the management of all entrusted to our care…. {9}

Apparently Alma organized his church at the Waters of Mormon, and it seems apparent to me that the baptisms performed at the Waters of Mormon incorporated the same kinds of covenants that President Charles W. Penrose enumerated. Now lets examine the discussion of baptism in the Book of Mormon.

Nephi is the first person to discuss baptism in the Book of Mormon, making it clear that he (and so presumably, the righteous in Old Testament times) had been baptized and had the authority to baptize. His explanation of one’s need for baptism and its relationship with the atonement is one of the most explicit in the scriptures.

10    And he [the Saviour] said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?
11    And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
12    And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
13    Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.
14    But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
15    And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
16    And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.
17    Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
18    And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:10-18)

Even though baptism is not mentioned after that in the Book of Mormon until Alma’s story at the Waters of Mormon, it is clear that Nephi’s descendants both understood and practiced the ordinance. For example there can be no question but that King Benjamin’s sermon was addressed to a people who have already made temple covenants – that presupposes that they had also been baptized. It seems reasonable to me to believe that the people who went with Zeniff when they returned to the land of Nephi to reclaim their inheritances – that those people would have had the priesthood – and if they had the priesthood they would have performed its ordinances – baptism first of all. Abinadi certainly had the priesthood, and it is quite likely that there were still other people who exercised it in righteousness, even after the beginning of Noah’s apostate reign.

There is abundant evidence that the Nephites had all priesthood authority and ordinances, but before Alma organized his church, (as was also true in much of the Old Testament times) those ordinances were administered under the royal and priesthood authority of the king. There is no evidence that there was a church in America before the time of Alma. So when Alma said he received his authority directly from God, one can surmise that he is referring to his authority to organize the church. (Mosiah 18:13, 17, 26 ) {10} If that is so, then the events at the Waters of Mormon probably had much the same significance as the events over which Joseph presided on April 6, 1830. In both cases, the purpose of the new church was not only to administer the ordinances, but also to give people a structured opportunity to serve one another. Consequently, it seems likely to me that what happened at the Waters of Mormon was not the introduction of the ordinance of baptism for the remission of sins (Alma does not even mention the remission of sins), but rather the organization of the Church of Christ and a baptism into that Church. Alma’s baptismal prayer seems to support that idea.

13    And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world. (Mosiah 18:13)

As does Mormon’s explanation of those same events.

17     And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.
18     And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 18:17-18)

It appears that there were other times in the Book of Mormon when rebaptisms were employed in much the same way they were in the early days of the Church in Utah. For example, after the Church was organized in Zarahemla, there followed a time when people were not so much apostate, as they were lax in keeping their covenants. Alma’s son Alma then left the Judgement Seat, retained only his authority as President of the Church, and went on a campaign of reformation and rededication among Church members.

His sermons in both Alma 5 and Alma 7 suggest that he was urging the Saints to be rebaptized as a token of the renewal of their earlier covenants. (Alma 5:1-62.)

2     And these are the words which he spake to the people in the church which was established in the city of Zarahemla, according to his own record, saying: ….
6     And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? …
14     And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? ….
61     And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you.
62     I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life. (Alma 5: 2, 6, 14, 61-62)

If I read that last verse correctly, it appears that he has commanded the members of the Church to renew their covenants by baptism, and that he also invited those who were not members to be baptized also. That reading seems reinforced by his sermon in chapter 7, which was apparently addressed to an assembly of priesthood holders. {11} He used the phrase “my beloved brethren” four times throughout his speech (v. 1, 17, 22, 26), and in one of those he reminds them of their temple covenants.

22     And now my beloved brethren, I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God, that ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God, after which ye have been received.
23     And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
24    And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works.
25    And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out  (Alma 7: 14-16).

In the last, which is his blessing, he speaks of their physical, as well as their spiritual, well-being.

26    And now my beloved brethren, I have spoken these words unto you according to the Spirit which testifieth in me; and my soul doth exceedingly rejoice, because of the exceeding diligence and heed which ye have given unto my word.
27    And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever. And thus I have spoken. Amen. (Alma 7: 22-27)

Notice what else he tells this congregation:

14    Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness.
15    Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.
16    And whosoever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me. (Alma 7: 14-16)

One cannot help but observe that much of what he has said there is incorporated into the sacrament prayers. He also said much in those speeches that were reminiscent of what his father had told the Saints at the Waters of Mormon.

7     And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
8    And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9    Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10    Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18: 7-10)

Compare that with what Alma the Younger said to the Saints at Zarahemla:

14     And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)

[And then he defines that in terms of one’s attitude toward other people (these passages need to be read in their full context, but I’ll quote a few here]

29     Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.
30     And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?
31     Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved! ……
53    And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?
54     Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God, wherewith they have been brought into this church, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and they do bring forth works which are meet for repentance—
55     Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?
56 And finally, all ye that will persist in your wickedness, I say unto you that these are they who shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they speedily repent. (Alma 5:29-56)

Note that there is also a remarkable similarity between these ideas and those “rules” enumerated by President Charles W. Penrose when he described the covenants of the United Order.

So it appears to me that the covenant of baptism at the Waters of Mormon was an induction into the Church of Christ and an introduction into the society of Zion where they would practice the Law of Consecration in the wilderness. (I am not confusing the United Order and the Law of Consecration. Unlike living the Law of Consecration, one cannot be a part of the United Order alone by oneself – it requires a group. But obeying the Law of Consecration is a purely individual matter. Zion is the pure in heart – that is the condition of individuals in a society, not the condition of a society to which one may apply for membership.)

In addition to the ones I have mentioned above, there are at least two other apparent examples of rebaptism in the Book of Mormon.

After Alma organized his church, people became members of that church by baptism. (Alma 6:2, 7:14-15, 62:45; Helaman 5:17, 16:1-2; 3 Nephi 1:23, 7:25, 11:23-27) But when the Saviour came and organized a new Church and Kingdom, he instructed the Saints that they must now be baptized. Apparently that meant that they must be baptized again in order to belong to the new Church.

1     And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am. (3 Nephi 12:1.)

The other example of rebaptism in the Book of Mormon is in Moroni.

1     And now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.
2     Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
3     And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
4     And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:1-4)

There is a third example also, and it is very important; but it is probably quite different from the ones I have just cited – and at the same time, it throws considerable light on some I have not mentioned. Before the Saviour left his friends in America he said to them: (These verses also need to be read in context!)

13     Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. …
18     And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. … no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; ….
20     Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

Here he was talking to people who had made and kept eternal covenants. To them he has just explained the meanings of the “gospel,” the “word,” and the “commandment.” But if the commandment is relevant to his audience; if “come unto me” means what it usually means, then “and be baptized” is either in the wrong part of the sequence (which it is not), or else he is talking about another baptism altogether (which it is). He elaborates by defining “gospel” a second time: only this time he defines it in terms of their covenants rather than his own:

21     Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;
22     Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day. (3 Nephi 27:13-33.)

It is that second definition of “gospel” and the promise that follows that convinces me that the “baptism” he is recommending to them is not a baptism by water. In another place, the Lord explained,

11     Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. (D&C 33:11)

And Mormon was even more explicit when he explained that if we “are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment.” (Mormon 7:10)

Jesus’ baptism was a singular event.

13     Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14     But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15     And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
16     And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17     And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:13-17.)

“To fulfil all righteousness” is a very big phrase: “Fulfill” can be read to mean simply to “perform,” and it carries the connotation of satisfying a prerequisite that is necessary to a final goal. “All” means “all,” just as it does in Ephesians 1:3-4. There is no bigger word than “all.” When it stands alone as a noun it means everything there is. When it is an adjective or adverb it means every instance of existence in that category of things. “Righteousness” is Zedek – truth and rectitude in performing and keeping priesthood and temple ordinances and covenants. If the Saviour’s baptism was “to fulfil all righteousness,” it was much more than just an example for us to follow. It was the path by which we also must “fulfil all righteousness.”

It is apparent to me that the Saviour’s baptism was not a baptism for the remission of his sins – Jesus certainly had no need of that – but it was a preliminary coronation ceremony which announced the beginning of his ministry, and was also a formal acknowledge that he was to become King and Priest.

I have analyzed the ancient coronation ceremony elsewhere, so will only briefly describe it here. The only place in the Old Testament where it is described in full is in Isaiah 61 which is a prophecy of salvation for the dead (D&C 138: 42) There can be no question that Isaiah is describing a coronation, because the steps he mentions were essential to the coronation ceremonies of all ancient and modern people. They were used in ancient Israel, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, and are still used in modern England. They are these:

3     To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.(Isaiah 61:3.)

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,” [to invite them to be Zion]

  1. “To give unto them beauty [a crown] for ashes [several scholars have pointed out that ashes placed on the head for mourning or repentance are removed by a ceremonial washing. So this reference to replacing ashes by a crown necessarily presupposes a ceremonial washing.]
  2. “the oil of joy for mourning.” Kings and priests were anointed with perfumed olive oil.
  3. “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” [In verse 10, where a marriage ceremony is celebrated, that clothing is described this way: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,… ]
  4. “that they might be called [given the new royal king-name of] trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified [The name connotes eternal life andeternal increase].

It is possible to understand Jesus’ baptismal ceremony as containing all of those elements.

  1. Jesus was washed by John’s baptism.
  2. Peter explained that “… after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power….” (Acts 10:37-38)
  3. When Jesus was baptized, John saw the heavens opened, and he saw something white, that floated like a bird with wings. He testified “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.” (John 1:32) In my imagination, I have invisioned that, not as a bird, but as a royal coronation garment with flowing white sleeves – the garment of light which Adam left in the Garden and which denoted both his priesthood and his kingship.
  4. And the Father himself pronounced the royal king-name: “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11, see Psalm 2 for the use of that same new king- name in the ancient Israelite coronation ceremony.)

After prophetically describing Jesus’ baptism, Nephi added,

9     And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.
10     And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?
11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
12 And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do. (2 Nephi 31: -12) {12}

Conclusion

It seems to me that the ordinance of baptism as performed at the Waters of Mormon was probably an induction into the Church, and a covenant that the people would do all they could do to support each other and the Kingdom, rather than only a baptism for the remission of sins. And it further seems to me that it may also have been a token of a covenant that invited them into the Zion society in which they would live the Law of Consecration while they were in the wilderness. If that is so – if one’s baptismal covenants can be so all-encompassing – perhaps it would be appropriate if we would take our own baptismal covenants more seriously.

In this, the last dispensation, when one is baptized, the ordinance is the token of a multi-faceted covenant. It is a cleansing from sin, and an invitation to continually repent that one may remain clean; it is an initiation ordinance that makes one a member of the Church and Kingdom of God; it is a necessary prerequisite for receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost; and it implies a personal covenant that is not at all unlike the covenant that was made by Alma and his people at the Waters of Mormon.

In the church nowadays, we are not rebaptized to renew or remake our covanants, but each Sabbath Day we renew those covenants when we take the sacrament. The blessing on the bread reaffirms our willingness to keep the commandments upon which all blessings are predicated.

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

It seems to me that the blessing on the water is about the consequences of one’s keeping those commandants, and may be also about a second baptism – one of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

As I understand it, the sacrament is a reaffirmation of one’s baptismal covenants, but for we who have received our endowments, it is a reaffirmation of those covenants as well. Together these two sacramental tokens of the Saviour’s atonement are a weekly rededication – a kind of culmination – of all the other ordinances and blessings of the gospel combined.

———————————————-

ENDNOTES

{1} Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, 1953), 1: 44. [Hereafter: “DHC” because we old folks knew this as the Documentary History of the Church.]

{2} DHC 1:51. {3} DHC 1:79.

{4} DHC 1:79

{5} That information is not in my printed copy of DHC, but is in the Gospel Link version. DHC vol 1, chapter 8, footnote 4.

{6} A quick word search using “rebaptism” in Gospel Link will give you a number of articles about that. Here is one of the most comprehensive examples:

“Another nineteenth-century practice that was reexamined was rebaptism. For many years it had been common for members to recommit themselves to building the kingdom through rebaptism. This practice was not considered essential to salvation, but was a symbol of rededication. On other occasions the Saints were baptized as a symbolic gesture related to blessings for their health, entry into the United Order, preparation for marriage, and even for going to the temple if they had not been there for some time. So common, in fact, was rebaptism that printed forms introduced in 1877 for ward membership records contained columns for recording it, and these forms were not replaced until 1900.

“In 1893 the First Presidency instructed stake presidents not to require rebaptism for Saints wishing to attend the Salt Lake Temple dedication, for “the Lord will forgive sins if we forsake them.” In 1897 the practice was discontinued altogether. As explained by President George Q. Cannon, the possibility of frequent rebaptism led many people to think of it as an easy way to obtain constant forgiveness of their sins. “It is repentance from sin that will save you,” he reminded them, “not rebaptism .” – – James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992), 430-431.)

{7}Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff, His Life and Labors, comp. Matthias F. Cowley (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1916), 487 – 488.

{8}Apr. 1, 1891, Juvenile Instructor 26:218) quoted in: George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987), 136-137.)

{9}President Charles W. Penrose., Conference Report, October 1913, p. 20-23 (President Penrose commented on the continued relevance of each of those covenants, but I have only quoted the original covenants here.)

{10} As you know, in order to prevent this from becoming a chat room, everything that we post is read by at least one other person, and in almost every case that is Bruce Cowser, who deserves a lot of thanks for his work. When Bruce returned this draft to me, he asked,

“Could he not have once been properly ordained prior to his interim apostasy? And wasn’t his self-baptism an indication that he had possibly once been properly baptized? So even though his commission may have come directly from God, his authority may have come by normal ordination.”

{11} Relative to that comment, Bruce cautioned me “to be slightly more provisional or tentative in asserting” that Alma 7 is an address to a priesthood meeting; and asked, Is it not possible he would call people his “beloved brethren” even if ladies or non-priesthood holders present? The answer, of course, is “Yes, it is possible.” Then the question has to be asked, “Is it likely.”

I was basing my assumption Alma was addressing a priesthood assembly on some research Dan Belnap showed me he had done several years ago where he examined the uses of “beloved brethren” and “beloved brother” in the scriptures. His conclusion, which I found to be very convincing, is that those phrases denote a covenant relationship between the speaker and the person or person’s addressed.

Let me show you just a few examples (in addition to Alma 7) that Dan he showed to me. When Jacob was speaking at the temple he said,

10     And he [the Saviour] said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? (2 Nephi 31:10)

When Mormon delivered a very formal sermon in which he reminded his “beloved brethren” that he was speaking by the authority of “his calling” – presumably as President of the Church, he began the sermon by saying,

2     And now I, Mormon, speak unto you, my beloved brethren; and it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy will, because of the gift of his calling unto me, that I am permitted to speak unto you at this time. (Moroni 7:2.)

Another example is Helaman’s epistle to Moroni. This is interesting because it is an official military report. He begins,

2     My dearly beloved brother, Moroni, as well in the Lord as in the tribulations of our warfare; behold, my beloved brother, I have somewhat to tell you concerning our warfare in this part of the land (Alma 56:2).

And concludes with,

41     And now, my beloved brother, Moroni, may the Lord our God, who has redeemed us and made us free, keep you continually in his presence; yea, and may he favor this people, even that ye may have success in obtaining the possession of all that which the Lamanites have taken from us, which was for our support. And now, behold, I close mine epistle. I am Helaman, the son of Alma. (Alma 58:41.)

While there can be little doubt that there was a truly loving relationship between these two men, it is also evident that this is a very formal letter. The conclusion of colophon, “I am Helaman, the son of Alma,” insists that the letter is an official correspondence, yet the relationship he evokes is not a military one, but is “my beloved brother.” The meaning of that phrase seems to be shown in the prayer, “ Moroni, may the Lord our God, who has redeemed us and made us free, keep you continually in his presence.” If Helaman is using the word “redeemed” the way his statement says he is using it, then the phrase “my beloved brother” is very likely a formal statement of their covenant relationship.

Peter describes Paul the same way, and perhaps with the same meaning.

15     And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; (2 Peter 3:15)

That argument is not conclusive, so perhaps Bruce’s suggestion is correct. It is clear that there were people in the congregation of Alma 5 who had not been baptized, and perhaps that was also true with Alma 7.

{12} If, as seems likely to me, Jesus’’ baptism was a coronation ceremony, then it also appears that it was a preliminary one – that is, like the ancient Israelite kings, Jesus was anointed to become king, before he was anointed King. If that assumption is correct, then it is also probable that his final coronation occurred on the Mount of Transfiguration, where the Father again pronounced the royal King-name, “This is my Beloved Son.”

During the ancient Israelite ceremonies, the psalm that was probably used in the part of the ceremony in which the crown prince was anointed to become king is Psalm 72. For Mowinckel’’s analysis of the 72 Psalm see: Sigmund Mowinckel, D. R. Ap-Thomas, trans., The Psalms in Israel’ ’ s Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 2 vols., 1979), 1: 67–70.

From the Old Testament we learn very little about the ancient coronation ceremonies. However we do know that before Solomon’’s Temple was built, Saul and David were chosen and anointed to become king by the prophet Samuel, and again by him they were later anointed king. Solomon was anointed by Zadok the priest. Thereafter, Jeroboam was chosen by the prophet Ahijah; and later still, a priest was responsible for making Josiah king. See 1 Samuel 16:13; I Kings 1:39; 1 Kings 11:29-40; 11 Kings 11: 12.

Weisman describes “two biblical patterns in the employment of the anointing for different purposes.” He likens the early nominating anointings of Saul and David as king-designate to a “betrothal,” and their later anointings as kings as the marriage itself. Ze’eb Weisman, “Anointing as a Motif in the Making of the Charismatic King,” in Biblica (57 no 3:378-398).

For a detailed discussion of the anointing of Israelite kings, see: Donald W. Parry, “Ritual Anointing with Olive Oil in Ancient Israelite Religion,” in Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch, eds., The Allegory of the Olive Tree (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S, 1994), 266- 271, 281-283. For a discussion of the olive tree as the Tree of Life and of the tree and its oil as symbols of kingship see, Stephen D. Ricks, “Olive Culture in the Second Temple Era and Early Rabbinic Period,” in Ibid., 460-476.

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