Give the Gift of Salvation

imageI got a cute e-mail from Family Search this morning. Did I know, they asked, that one of my ancestors is mentioned in the Joseph Smith Papers?

Before opening the e-mail, I considered who they might be talking about. Perhaps it was Jonathan Holmes, who helped secretly bury Joseph’s remains after his death, then helped Emma bury Joseph’s body in February 1845. It could have been Elvira Annie Cowles [Holmes], who was governess in the Smith household, treasurer of the Relief Society, and eventually one of Joseph’s plural wives. Joseph Leland Heywood, a successful merchant from Quincy Illinois, spent one day with Joseph Smith in December 1842, agreeing to be baptized in the frozen river that very night. Or it could have talked about the Bells, Scottish converts who helped build the temple, or the DeLongs, converts who arrived in Nauvoo the day the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum were returned from Carthage. Or it could have mentioned John Taylor, who was shot at Carthage jail along with Joseph and Hyrum.

But no. They mentioned Austin Cowles. Austin had been a member of the high council, a well-respected man who had served as his town’s Methodist preacher before embracing Mormonism. Austin was crippled, and his distinctive gait was well-known in Nauvoo. To the end of Joseph’s life, Austin had faith in the restored gospel. It is likely he helped craft the following statement:

We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants, and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books, are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven, and speaks a language which, when spoken in truth and virtue, sinks deep into the heart of every honest man. — Its precepts are invigorating, and in every sense of the word, tend to dignify and ennoble man’s conceptions of God and his atributes[sic]. It speaks a language which is heard amidst the roar of Artillery, as well as in the silence of midnight: it speaks a language understood by the incarcerated spirit, as well as he who is unfettered and free… 1

Unfortunately, these lovely sentiments were published after Austin Cowles had secretly plotted to murder Joseph. Austin had been counseled, but when he persisted in opposing to Joseph, he had been excommunicated.

Yet Austin was loved by his daughter, who traveled to Utah and raised her children in the Church. Once it became clear that saving ordinances were to be performed for ancestors, Austin’s grandchildren went to the temple and performed these ordinances for Austin and those Austin loved.

So for Christmas, let us think of our families, those we love. Are there any for whom saving ordinances haven’t been performed, for whom it would be appropriate to do the work now? 2

If my ancestor, who plotted to murder Joseph, has been offered the saving ordinances, please do not hesitate to offer your own loved ones these great blessings.


  1. The Expositor, June 7, 1844, Page 1, Col. E. Available online at, retrieved 15 May, 2014.
  2. If ancestors were born less than 110 years ago, permission is to be sought by the next of kin, which is a surviving parent, a surviving spouse, a surviving sibling, or a surviving child.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

7 thoughts on “Give the Gift of Salvation

  1. The ancestors were listed alphabetically and both James Taylor and his son John Taylor were listed as well when I opened the link. I do appreciate the point you made. It is not our duty to judge which of our ancestors deserve temple ordinances.

  2. To put a twist on a common phrase used decades ago: “Baptize ’em all, and let God sort ’em out.”

    That sounds a lot nicer than the original, too. 🙂

  3. An acquaintance, who served his mission in the Deep South, repeated for me some cynical verses that urban legend claimed came from Parley P. Pratt:

    These people all are hopeless,
    Their hearts are full of lead.
    Let’s burn the South, then all go home
    And baptize for the dead.

    Not sound doctrine, but I suppose it seemed amusing at times.

  4. I’ve heard a tale that early Christian missionaries to China would baptize individuals, then dispatch these individuals, supposedly to ensure their souls remained saved.

    On the other hand, my Chinese grandmother became converted to Christianity but had to wait for years before she was able to be baptized, since there was no one in the vicinity that purportedly had authority to baptize.

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