Lord, Accept into Thy Kingdom is a hymn about baptism that draws heavily on 2 Nephi 31. It’s also a challenging hymn to dig into, but it presented at least a couple of interesting ideas!
Because it’s such an unfamiliar hymn, I want first to briefly describe its organization, and then dig into some of its doctrinal ideas.
Each verse focuses itself on a particular instance of baptism:
Verse 1 – baptism quite generally (“born of water”)
Verse 2 – Christ’s baptism (“know ye not that he was holy?” cf. 2 Ne 31:7)
Verse 3 – baptism for the dead (“holy ordinance … for the … dead”)
The hymn then concludes with these lines of praise:
Let your hearts rejoice in gladness!
Let the earth break forth and sing!
Let the dead speak praising anthems
To our God, eternal King!
Apart from the startling rarity of LDS hymns about baptism, this hymn is also striking for the way it so emphatically praises the Lord. When was the last time you expressed gratitude for this ordinance? And why, exactly, does this hymn suggest that we ought to?
First, the title and first line asks the Lord to “accept into thy kingdom” all those who have been baptized. We typically think of God’s kingdom as another term for “heaven,” and often picture ourselves entering that kingdom only after we die. This hymn suggests otherwise: since baptism takes place in this life, so does entry into God’s kingdom. In fact, the symbolism of baptism itself supports this interpretation; the Apostle Paul describes baptism this way:
“Therefore we are buried with [Christ] by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Paul describes baptism as a symbolic death, burial, and resurrection in memory of Christ’s physical death and resurrection. We are “buried” in the water, and then “raised up.” That symbolism is important. What we are burying “into death” is the natural man, and what we are raising up “in newness of life” is a son or daughter of God. Eternal life has already begun! We’ve already (symbolically) died and been resurrected. Eternity and life in God’s kingdom begin now.
Second, baptism initiates a special kind of relationship with the Father. Like Nephi, this hymn asks “know ye not that he was holy?” Baptism has to involve more than simply cleansing from sin or securing salvation, since Jesus needed neither of those. What did Jesus’ baptism reveal? Nephi answers:
“[Jesus] witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Ne 31:7).
On this account, baptism showed a certain sort of relationship with the Father. Christ demonstrated and covenanted a willingness to submit to God—something that would come to fruition in a radical way on the cross. Instead of being a means for washing away sins, baptism, for Nephi, is chiefly a covenant. Once you’ve established that special relationship with God, the hymn describes “the Holy Ghost, descending” (cf. 2 Ne 31:8). Baptism inscribes you into a covenant relationship with the Father, and the Holy Ghost seals it up.
We should rejoice in the ordinance of baptism because God has given us a way to subvert our own deaths, to begin living eternal lives in his kingdom immediately. Heaven is not something yet to be obtained by a kind of enduring drudgery of mortality; heaven is something we can have now, and all that the Lord asks of us in order to accomplish that is (in the language of this hymn) to be “repentant and humbled” and “born of water and the Spirit.” In addition, to children as young as eight years old God has granted a covenant that brings us into a close, sealed relationship with Him as our Father. Baptism is a remarkable gift that allows us to shed our natural man and be inscribed into the kind of relationships shared among the members of the godhead. This is the kingdom into which he invites us:
Hark, glad tidings of salvation.
Hear his word, “Come follow me
Unto glory in my kingdom,
Unto life eternally.”