The Prophet Joseph Smith » The Church Gathers to Nauvoo

[this teaching has not yet been illustrated]


A prosperous recent convert named John C. Bennett had political connections at the state capitol of Illinois, and was able to lobby for Nauvoo to be granted a charter which allowed the Church to take control of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of local government. It even allowed the formation of a militia, and thus Joseph Smith was named lieutenant general over the Nauvoo Legion, while Bennett himself was elected the city's first mayor.


A feeling of security and excitement prevailed as immigrants poured into Nauvoo and the city sprang to life with sawmills, brickyards, factories, bakeries, flour mills, printing offices, blacksmiths, tailors, shoe shops, and craftsmen's workshop of all kinds. A three-story cultural hall held theater performances, art exhibits, concerts, political meetings, court sessions, and Masonic ceremonies.


But even after the malaria epidemic had diminished. the inhabitants of Nauvoo continued to be plagued by diseases. Many succumbed to measles, mumps, consumption, diphtheria, diarrhea, canker, whooping cough, and the bloody flux. Apostle John Taylor's wife wrote to him in Britain, and described the situation back at home: "This has been a distressed place since you left, with sickness. Almost every individual in every family is sick."


In early 1841, the prophet received a revelation from Jesus commanding the construction of a temple in Nauvoo. Church leaders told the Saints that great exertions and sacrifices would be required of them to accomplish this task, and that if they failed, Jesus would reject them as his Church. Soon the goal of building the temple dominated activities in Nauvoo, its construction made possible by donated labor and tithing of the Saints.


That summer, the prophet announced a revelation he had received from Jesus permitting the Saints to become baptized on behalf of their deceased relatives. Smith explained that a just God would not torture his children in hell eternally just because they did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel and become baptized during their lives. But certain rituals such as baptism must be performed on earth by the living. To become saved, repentant spirits in hell could now be assisted in their salvation by their living relatives.


The first instances of these proxy baptisms were performed in the Mississippi River, but revelation had made clear that having a holy place for these baptisms to be performed was one of the primary reasons for the construction of the temple. So in October of 1841, the prophet suspended the practice. The baptisms were able to begin again the following month when a temporary baptismal font was installed in the temple's just-completed basement.


Jesus also revealed to the prophet another temple ritual called the Endowment, and Smith introduced this ritual to select others—including his brother Hyrum and Brigham Young—before the temple was completed. Young later defined the Endowment as being "necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation."



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