Today in priesthood we talked about chapter 7 in the Joseph Smith manual. It is about “Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” One thing that struck me as I read the chapter is the number of times that Joseph referred to baptism and some of the other principles and ordinances as signs:
God has set many signs on the earth, as well as in the heavens…
Upon the same principle do I contend that baptism is a sign ordained of God, for the believer in Christ to take upon himself in order to enter into the kingdom of God…
It is a sign and a commandment which God has set for man to enter into His kingdom. Those who seek to enter in any other way will seek in vain; for God will not receive them, neither will the angels acknowledge their works as accepted, for they have not obeyed the ordinances, nor attended to the signs which God ordained for the salvation of man, to prepare him for, and give him a title to, a celestial glory…
Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved…
The Lord says do so and so, and I will bless you. There are certain key words and signs belonging to the Priesthood which must be observed in order to obtain the blessing. The sign [taught by] Peter was to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost…
…but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him.
I think this is enlightening. All of the ordinances and covenants of the gospel include (and are) signs. Signs are physical actions which demonstrate to God that we have, indeed, entered into the covenants that we say we have. We can’t just say we’ve made a covenant with God with our lips (which is what God said in the First Vision was occurring in the world – “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (JS-H 1:19). Whenever true covenants are made with God, established physical signs have accompanied them.
The sign of baptism is the physical action of being immersed in the water. The sign of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is the laying on of hands, as is ordination to the priesthood. The sign of the sacrament is the blessing, administering, and partaking of the emblems or symbols of Christ’s flesh and blood. The sign of blessing the sick or afflicted is the anointing with consecrated oil and the laying on of hands. The sign of the sealing ordinance in the temple is kneeling at the altar with your spouse and other sacred actions. The signs of the covenants of the endowment are likewise recognizable to those who have participated in them.
Because these signs always are physical, perhaps that is one of the reasons that a disembodied spirit cannot perform them alone. They must be done vicariously, or by proxy, by a living person, one who can perform these signs with a physical body in behalf of the dead.
“Their hearts are far from me”.
At the “Feast upon the Word” blog, they had a post titled “Broken Hearted”
It spoke about the origin on the the Hebrew idiom, ‘broken heart’, and how it doesn’t equate with our idea of feelings. The Hebrews saw the heart as the ability to preform actions.
So ‘hearts are far from me’, doesn’t necessarily mean that Christendom’s feelings were removed from Christ [I think their feelings and their words were in the right place]. However their actions, or the signs, were lost to them. With no Priesthood and no Signs, good words and feelings could only advance them so far.
The Restoration was needed.
Great point! Thanks!
In law there is always the question of intent. It is one thing to be sincere, or to say in one’s heart that you have faith in Jesus Christ. But to make that intent real — to actualize that inward conviction some outward manifestation, especially a public act, helps to communicate and formalize real intent.
Sometimes covenants are one sided, as in the Noahic Covenant, where God promises never again to flood the earth, and signifies his real intent through the sign of the rainbow. More common are covenants that involve two parties. You mention the case of baptism, where you said, “The sign of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is the laying on of hands.”
I would describe it differently.
As part of the enactment of the covenant, God, in his part of the contract, confirms and ratifies the covenant by bestowing the Holy Ghost. When the priesthood holder bestows the Holy Ghost, he is doing it in God’s stead, as if God Himself were giving the Gift. So God is “confirming” that the covenant is enacted, and that he fully intends to forgive our sins, sanctify us and give us Eternal Life. Hence, it is a “confirmation” of the baptismal covenant. The Laying On of Hands is the outward manifestation, the covenant ritual, the sign on God’s part.
But so also is the presence of the Spirit.
The Holy Ghost is the Justifier, the Ratifier of all covenants and contracts. When our lives are in order, the Holy Ghost is our companion, and the outward means or sign that the covenant which God has established with us is in effect. When the Holy Ghost withdraws himself, we cannot have that assurance, for we are not keeping our part of the agreement.
As an example, I think the signs of the times physically are in the world, but the spiritual signs of the times are in the temple.
Similarly to Steven B, I would take the notion of ordinance as sign even further. There are several levels of signifying occurring: “The sign of baptism is the physical action of being immersed in the water,” but at the same time, the act of being baptized is a sign of one’s formal dedication to Christ and His Church and gospel. Similarly, the weekly sacrament contains the signs of Christ’s flesh and blood, and our taking of the sacrament is a sign of our acceptance of His sacrifice and our dedication to Him.
I think that performative signs of the sacred are particularly interesting because there comes a point where the eternal and the temporal (the action) intersect; the act and its meaning become one and the same.
Excellent comments everyone. Thank you for your insights.
I remember reading Nibley stating (I’ve looked for the reference and haven’t found it yet) that early Christians understood that Jesus was the one who baptized and that all who baptized another were literally standing in the place of Jesus. John replying, “I have need to be baptized of thee” (Matt 3:14) makes sense in this light. And of course, compare this idea to the words of the baptismal rite, “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” And to realize that we receive [take upon us] the sign of baptism from Jesus himself “in order to enter into the kingdom of God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 91).