Our 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:
When we think of the second coming of Christ and the things that will happen in the last days, frequently our focus is on the prophesied destruction and the “signs of the times.” But as the focus of D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson 21 shows, we need not put our focus there, but instead we can focus on what will happen to the righteous and the millennium that will be ushered in by the second coming. That same kind of focus can be seen in the following hymn by W. W. Phelps:
Spiritual history is replete with types and shadows. The similarities that appear between events in widely-separated places and times lead to the conclusion that the Lord is trying to point out some truth to us, something we need to understand. I see a kind of repetition in this week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson, in which Samuel the Lamanite tries to call the Nephites to repentance (Helaman 13-16). Samuel preached just a few years before the birth of Christ, and he prophesied about the destruction in the Americas that would accompany Christ’s crucifixion soon afterward. But somehow his prophecies don’t sound very different from those that we hear concerning Christ’s second coming.
Perhaps the most common theme in early Mormon poetry is the restoration. But while the Book of Mormon itself prophesies about the restoration (as it does in the 10th Book of Mormon lesson), it wasn’t until this hymn was published in 1833 that Mormon poetry addressed the subject. Of course, soon after the Restoration became a very common theme in Mormon poetry from many authors. William Wines Phelps, the author of this hymn was also 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.