President Joseph F. Smith, speaking about the “mighty change” recorded in Mosiah 5:2, said:
“What a glorious condition was this! a condition in which the Lord God Omnipotent, by the power of His Spirit, had wrought a mighty change in the hearts of that people, that they no longer had any desire to do evil, but were filled only with a fervent desire to do that which was good. This was indeed a great change, and yet it is precisely that change that comes today to every son and daughter of God who repents of his or her sins, who humble themselves before the Lord, and who seek forgiveness and remission of sin by baptism by immersion, by one having authority to administer the sacred ordinance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . I speak of the influence and power of the Holy Spirit that I experienced when I had been baptized for the remission of my sins. The feeling that came upon me was that of pure peace, of love and of light. I felt in my soul that if I had sinned – and surely I was not without sin – that it had been forgiven me; that I was indeed cleansed from sin; my heart was touched and I felt that I would not injure the smallest insect beneath my feet. I felt as though I wanted to do good everywhere to everybody and to everything. I felt a newness of life, a newness of desire to do that which was right. There was not one particle of desire for evil left in my soul. I was but a little boy, it is true, when I was baptized; but this was the influence that came upon me, and I know that it was from God, and was and ever has been a living witness to me of my acceptance of the Lord.” (Conference Report, April 1898, pp. 65-66) — Book of Mormon Student Manual, p. 57-58
Archibald Stewart and his wife, Esther Lyle, are my great-great-grandparents. The Stewart family had learned to face persecution and hardship. Their ancestors had been forced to flee from Scotland to Northern Ireland, where they had been promised protection. But instead of finding peace, they again became victims of persecution at the hands of the Irish Greens. Independence and strong conviction were part of their heritage.
The Stewart family characteristics of love and devotion and a deep religious faith made them receptive to the gospel. When the Mormon missionaries came to the Stewart house, Elizabeth, the third child, immediately felt the truthfulness of their message. She began to study and search for more assurance of the things she felt within. Her feelings and study stirred an immediate response in her old granny, who was the matriarch of the Stewart household. Elizabeth spent many hours telling her granny about the new prophet of God, Joseph Smith, who had brought back to earth the simple, direct message that Christ was alive and had appeared to man. Elizabeth felt a testimony burning within and asked permission to be baptized. Because of the unpopularity of the Mormons, her parents objected. Elizabeth’s granny came to her rescue. “Let the child alone,” she said. “I have read all her books, and I do believe the child is right.”
As Elizabeth left her home to go to her baptism, her granny was at her side. The two walked to the river, where the elders had broken a hole in the ice that wintry March day. When the elders came toward Elizabeth to baptize her, her granny stepped up and said, “Watch your manners, child; never step in front of your elders.”
The elders baptized Granny in her street clothes; she even had on her little white cap. She had brought no extra clothes, so she walked home in her wet, frozen clothes. She did not take cold even though she did not change her clothes until the other family members had gone to bed. She said nothing about her baptism to the family, but went about her usual tasks as if nothing had happened. After the others had gone to bed, she hung her clothing around the fireplace. In the morning when Archibald got up, he saw the clothes drying. He began to joke with the others about Granny having been dipped in the river along with Elizabeth. Granny listened to their fun and then said: “Archibald, if you don’t want people to hear, stop shouting so loudly. You can’t talk about Granny now, for she can hear better than any of you.”
Granny had been virtually deaf for twenty years, but a miracle had restored her hearing at the time she was baptized. From that day until her death, she could hear distinctly. Archibald said laughingly that she heard too much. — Ted E. Brewerton, Ensign, November 1991, p. 12
At baptism we make a covenant with our Heavenly Father that we are willing to come into His kingdom and keep His commandments from that time forward, even though we still live in the world. We are reminded from the Book of Mormon that our baptism is a covenant to “stand as witnesses of God [and His kingdom] 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” (Mosiah 18:9).
When we understand our baptismal covenant and the gift of the Holy Ghost, it will change our lives and will establish our total allegiance to the kingdom of God. When temptations come our way, if we will listen, the Holy Ghost will remind us that we have promised to remember our Savior and obey the commandments of God.
President Brigham Young said: “All Latter-day Saints enter the new and everlasting covenant when they enter this Church. They covenant to cease sustaining, upholding and cherishing the kingdom of the Devil and the kingdoms of this world. They enter the new and everlasting covenant to sustain the Kingdom of God and no other kingdom. They take a vow of the most solemn kind, before the heavens and earth,…that they will sustain truth and righteousness instead of wickedness and falsehood, and build up the Kingdom of God, instead of the kingdoms of this world” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 62-63). — Robert D. Hales, “The Covenant of Baptism: To Be in the Kingdom and of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, p. 7
Joseph’s teachings constrain us to focus our missionary work on individuals, not groups. Thus, when we encounter tribal or other leaders who are attracted to our message and offer to bring all of their followers into membership, we must always refuse. . . .For us, each individual must decide for himself or herself, without pressure from group or higher authority. — Dallin H. Oaks, “Revelation is key to Prophet’s message,” Address given at an international academic conference co-sponsored by the Library of Congress and BYU in Washington, D.C., May 6-7, Church News, May 14, 2005, p. 3
This in brief is the Biblical story of John, and to every story in the scriptures there is a moral, a teaching, a doctrine – something that will guide and help those of us who read the scriptures and ponder their deep and marvelous meanings. What we are to learn from the baptism of Jesus was expressed by Nephi in these words: “And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy” – and truly Christ was without sin – “should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy” – and who among us has not sinned – “to be baptized, yea, even by water!”
Christ was not baptized for the remission of sins because he had none. But, as Nephi recounts, he was baptized for the following reasons: (1) As a token of humility before the Father; (2) As a covenant that he would keep the commandments; (3) As a prelude to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost; (4) To gain entrance to and be saved in the kingdom of God, for no one, not even the Son of God, can so obtain without baptism; and (5) As a pattern and an example for all men, and so that he could say: “Follow thou me” and also, “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.” (See 2 Ne. 31:5–12.) — Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “A Man Called John,” New Era, May 1984, p. 4
The Prophet Joseph pointed out that before your baptism, you could be on neutral ground between good and evil. But “when you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can [go] back.” His counsel was that we must never forsake the Master. (See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 324; see also Revelation 3:15–16.) — Elder Quentin L. Cook, “Can Ye Feel So Now?” Ensign, Nov. 2012
Has water, in itself, any virtue to wash away sin? Certainly not, but the Lord says, “If the sinner will repent of his sins, and go down into the waters of baptism, and there be buried in the likeness of being put into the earth and buried, and again be delivered from the water, in the likeness of being born – if in the sincerity of his heart he will do this, his sins shall be washed away.” Will the water of itself wash them away? No; but the keeping of the commandments of God will cleanse away the stain of sin. — Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:4
What happens when we are baptized? Baptism is the gate to eternal life. Baptism puts us on a path leading to eternal life, or leading, in other words, to the glory and might and dominion, the exaltation that God our Father possesses. Celestial marriage does in essence the same thing. Celestial marriage also puts us on the path leading to exaltation and glory in the eternal worlds. And so, to have our calling and election made sure means that we get baptized and get on the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life, and that we then traverse the length of the path and go upward and onward, through righteousness and devotion, through acquiring, as our text passage said, the attributes of godliness.
The thing about baptism is this: In it we get a conditional promise of eternal life. We get the promise:
“Son, thou shalt have eternal life, if you will now keep my commandments.” — Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Making Our Calling and Election Sure,” BYU Devotional, March 25, 1969
This doctrine of baptism for the dead is a great doctrine, one of the most glorious doctrines that was revealed to the human family; and there are light, power, glory, honor and immortality in it. — Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 399