Lesson 4: “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord”
This year’s lesson, focusing on the baptism of Jesus Christ, seems pretty standard and is guaranteed to elicit the rote “Sunday School answers” to a litany of obvious questions unless the teacher is prepared to do more than ask the surface questions of “and then what happened?” and “what are the steps of repentance?” These lessons from the 1961 adult Sunday School class addressing being born both of the water and of the Spirit may help teachers find questions beyond the obvious ones.
BORN OF WATER
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night to be taught by “a teacher come from God.” he was astonished when the Master told him that to have eternal life he must be born again. Being literal-minded, he replied:
How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:4, 5)
Every Latter-day Saint missionary has used this passage to prove that baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost are essential prerequisites for membership in the Church. And indeed they are – baptism by immersion and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost by those holding proper authority. These things are quite evident if one will consider all passages in the New Testament on the subject.
In stressing the necessity for these ordinances of the gospel, however, we sometimes fail to give full consideration to their meaning. We need to consider the meaning of Christ’s pregnant phrase – “Except a man be born again.” Baptism is more than an isolated ordinance. It is a witness of something that is happening to the inner life of a person. It is integral to the whole process of becoming and remaining a disciple of Christ.
The Meaning of Christ’s Baptism
Matthew tells us that when Christ came to John the Baptist to be baptized of him,
… John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. (Matt. 3:13-15_)
When we think of baptism simply as an ordinance of the gospel through which the participant receives remission of sins, and is ready for confirmation and the gift of the Holy ghost, it is difficult to see why the Savior needed baptism. The stock answer is this: Christ did not need baptism for the remission of sins. He was baptized so we would have no excuse not to be and as an example of obedience to the Father’s will. Christ did obey the will of God and set us an example in this act. But his baptism has more meaning than this. It was not only for us but also for himself. It is thrilling to learn from Nephi that Christ wanted to be baptized for his own need as well as to point the way for us. Nephi asks the question:
And now, I would ask of you my beloved brethren, wherein the lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water? (II Nephi 31:6)
And he gives the answer to his own question:
Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. (II Nephi 31:7)
And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? (II Nephi 31:10)
To fulfil all righteousness means to do the will of God. Surely his will is all righteous and embraces all righteousness. Christ desired to be baptized as his very own witness to the Father and to men that he was resolved to do the will of his Eternal Father. This was his whole-souled desire both in life and in death.
The Meaning of Our Baptism
Baptism to us should mean more than remission of sins, membership in the Church, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. These are important, but they represent only half the meaning of baptism. They are the things which we receive from Deity if we participate worthily. The other half of baptism is what we bring to it. We do not receive in baptism unless we also give. Our baptism itself is not efficacious unless we are born again, unless we overcome our selfish ways and live as Christ taught us to live. This fact is more clearly taught in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism – yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost: yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (II Nephi 31:13)
Paul speaks of our rebirth in baptism by using the death and the resurrection as being symbolical of burying the old self (the sinful self) in the waters of baptism and coming forth to a resurrection of a new spiritual life.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him 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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sins, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. let no sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (Rom. 6:1-13)
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. (Col. 2:12)
(Read also Col. 2:6-17)
Alma the Elder gives us perhaps the finest statement about the meaning of being “born again of water.” He was speaking to about two hundred and four souls who had asked for baptism. And he said to them:
… and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God 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 – Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mos. 18:8-10)
The simple act of baptism – even by immersion by one having authority – does not save one, does not prepare one to enter the celestial kingdom. Baptism can save one from sin; baptism can prepare one to enter the celestial kingdom – when properly administered – when this baptism is also the outward witness of a spiritual rebirth. For without faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and without repentance of those things out of harmony with faith in Christ, and without standing as a witness of God “at all times and in all things, and in all places” our baptism is vain. Baptism without repentance is putting trust in dead works. (See Moroni 8:10, 22, 23.)
True, baptism is the door to a new and fuller life as a Christian, and at the same time, it is a witness of our faith, our repentance, and of our great desire to be born again spiritually – to walk not after our own desires, but in harmony with the desires of the Lord Jesus Christ for us. A single sentence in the Doctrine and Covenants describes the kind of rebirth in us which is necessary if baptism is to bring remission of sins.
And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism – All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church. (D. & C. 20:37)
In this lesson we have tried to point out that the ordinance of baptism, when properly administered, is efficacious only if and when a person is born again through faith in Christ. This relationship between a person’s spiritual life and the ordinance of baptism may be further illustrated if we use marriage as an analogy.
In our society two people are not married without a ceremony, one that is duly administered by an authorized agent. No matter how long the two have known each other or how much they love each other, they are not married without the ceremony any more than a person is a member of the Church without baptism. Now, even if two people are duly married according to the law of the land and even of the Church also, if they do not bring to marriage friendship, love, and a righteous desire to help establish a successful marriage, of what avail is the ceremony? A ceremony cannot make a marriage. What is likely to be the outcome of the marriage? Baptism without faith in Christ is as empty and farcical as a wedding ceremony without friendship and love.
The Baptism of Children
If baptism is a witness of a spiritual rebirth, why do we baptize children at the age of eight? this question almost always follows a discussion on baptism. This is commanded by the Lord where children are born and taught of parents in the faith. (See D. & C. 68:27.) There is wisdom in this order of things. A child of eight has a considerable capacity for Christian discipleship. He has faith and trust; he is quick to forgive; he is eager to learn of God and his ways; and he has the humility of childhood. He is in a good frame of mind to learn to do as Jesus taught. If baptism meant full Christian living, who would ever be ready for it? Then, too, there is great value in belonging, in feeling a loyalty toward, and in having responsibility in the Church during one’s critical, youthful years. But let us remember that even for a child there is no point in “putting trust in dead works.” Let him believe, love Jesus, and want to follow Christ as his leader before he is baptized.
Becoming the Sons of God
All men are children of God. He is the Father of our spirits. This, as far as we know, is an expression of his divine grace. the scriptures also speak of our being sons of God through our belief in Christ – sons of God in the sense of deserving kinship with him. John speaks of it in this way:
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. (John 1:11, 12)
King Benjamin gives the same thought relating it to Christ. his words are in harmony with the concept of being born again. True baptism can lead to this.
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mos. 5:7)
”Born – of the Spirit”
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:16)
Tot hose who have faith in Christ, repent, and bear witness of their faith in baptism, Peter promises a great gift:
Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. for the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. (Acts 2:38, 39)
Our Knowledge About the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost is frequently mentioned in the New Testament, particularly in the gospel of John, Acts, Romans and Hebrews. Our understanding of the nature and mission of the Holy Ghost, based on these passages, presents us with some difficulty. (1) In the first place, the functions of the members of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – seem to overlap. All three are a source of inspiration and revelation. All three persuade men to do good. Just what their division of labor is, in relation to man, has not been revealed in detail to us. (2) The authors of scripture were, for the most part, we believe, not trying to make clear-cut theological distinctions. Rather, they were trying to persuade men to believe in Christ and to do his will. with such a purpose in mind, it is not difficult to use the Holy Ghost and the Spirit of God interchangeably on occasion. We do it in preaching and praying. (3) Translators of the Bible certainly have not understood the nature of Deity. For example, in the Dutch and German Bibles there is only one phrase for Holy Ghost and Holy Spirit. In the King James translation both phrases are used, but to each is not always given the same meaning.
Our interest this year is not in abstract theology or in the fine points of theology. We shall, therefore, make a brief summary of our knowledge of the Holy Ghost. Then we shall try to understand how the gift of the Holy Ghost can function in our everyday lives. this latter point is our chief interest.
1. The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, distinct from the Father and the Son. We believe the New Testament makes it amply clear that the Father, Son, and Holy ghost are one in purpose, but distinct in personality. (We reject the Trinitarian concept of the Christian creeds as being both un-Biblical and mysterious.) The distinction among members of Deity is indicated in the baptismal formula:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. (Matt. 28:19)
It is also clearly made in the gospel of John:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you … But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:16, 17, 26)
2. The baptism “with fire and the Holy Ghost” follows the baptism of water. As Matthew puts it:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me … he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. (Matt. 3:11)
The same order is given in Peter’s sermon quoted at the beginning of the lesson.
The one apparent exception to this order in the New Testament is given in relation to Cornelius. (Read Acts 10.) Peter recognized that the Holy Ghost had come upon Cornelius, the Gentile, before his baptism. This may have occurred to give Peter assurance that the gospel was meant for Gentiles. And it is also true that the Holy Ghost does influence the unbaptized. However, we believe that the gift of the Holy Ghost as a constant companion and comforter is reserved for those who prepare to receive the Holy Ghost through faith in Christ, true repentance, and baptism.
3. The Holy Ghost is “a personage of Spirit.”
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. (D. & C. 130:22-23)
The Mission of the Holy Ghost
with these thoughts in mind, let us turn to a consideration of the mission of the Holy Ghost. On this point the scriptures are quite clear and very inspiring. it is helpful and convenient to divide the mission of the Holy Ghost into three functions, which, of course, overlap.
a. The Holy Ghost is a revelator. Through the ages prophets have spoken in the name of the Lord as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost, the great medium of divine revelation. A few verses from scripture illustrate this function.
For the prophecy came not in old time, by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (II Peter 1:21)
But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. (Mark 13:11)
b. The Holy Ghost bears witness of the Father, the son, the truth, and the right.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. and when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the price of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall ye speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:7-14)
It is by the influence of the Holy Ghost that men may know with certitude that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ. for this reason, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is the one unpardonable sin.
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matt. 12:31, 32)
The reason for this is indicated in Hebrews. A man who has once known the truths of life by the power of the Holy Ghost, and then denies them, loses the power to repent. Hence he cannot be forgiven.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (Heb. 6:4-6)
c. The Holy Ghost is a great source of all the spiritual gifts of the gospel.
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. (Rom. 14: 17, 18)
Wherefore I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of thy hands. For god hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began; But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. that good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us. (II Tim. 1:6-14)
Through the influence of the Holy Ghost we are aided in the cultivation of all the gifts and principles of the gospel – discernment, tongues, faith, humility, mercy, love, wisdom.
The Need for the Holy Ghost in Our Lives Today
The gift of the Holy Ghost is not to be restricted to the prophets nor to those living in ancient times. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (See Acts 2:37-39.) Everyone baptized worthily in Christ’s Church has a right to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Indeed the individual member of the Church has as much right and responsibility to know that the prophet speaking to him is inspired of God as the prophet has to be inspired in his speaking.
We have special need today for the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Our age is complex, characterized by multiplicity and change. We have access to nearly all of the virtues and vices, truths and errors, beauty and ugliness, righteousness and sins of all ages and cultures. When Elijah stood on Mt. Carmel, he said to gathered Israel:
How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. and the people answered him not a word. (I Kings 18:21)
Why should they have answered? He had stated clearly the alternatives of his time – Baal or Jehovah, black or white. It was a day of great but simple, clear-cut choices.
Today we have the writings of all religious leaders, poets, philosophers, and scientists before us. We have black and white and all shades in between in regard to truth and error, good and evil. And these things are given to us with little assortment and classification. We are bombarded daily through press, radio, television, movie, theatre, library, classroom, rostrum, and pulpit. Each individual is confronted with an intricate maze in his search for life’s meaning, value, and truth. In this complex age we necessarily rely upon the authority and knowledge of others – the doctor, the lawyer, the engineer, the chemist. In matters of morality and religion, however, we cannot shift responsibility to others. Everyone must learn for himself the truth and the right.
How Shall We Know the Truth, the Right?
Ways of Knowing
There are three traditional ways of knowing the truth and the right – by reason, experience, and intuition. these ways are not mutually exclusive. all three may be used in life. Each may serve as a check to the others. Let us consider them briefly and then see how the Holy ghost may function in relation to them.
1. Reason (rationalism). Some philosophers have believed that reason is an independent source of knowledge, that the mind can know some things with experience which comes from seeing, hearing, feeling, and other sense perceptions. Rationalism is the belief that the mind has certain ideas which are intuitively present, from which many other things may be known by deduction.
2. Experience (empiricism). A second way of knowing is through sense experience. This method denies that we have innate ideas (rationalism) and believes that we learn through observation, experimentation and verification of sense data. Empiricism is the basic method of all the sciences. In it we begin with facts and try to reach conclusions (induction). In rationalism we begin with ideas by which we explain the world about us (deduction).
3. Intuition. A third way of knowing is by an immediate and direct apprehension of an idea, or a principle, or by feeling. The avowed intuitionist believes that he can know things immediately and not in the roundabout way of abstract thinking (words are symbols) or through the untrustworthy presentation of the senses. The rationalist and empiricist are very skeptical about knowledge through intuition. to them it is too subjective, too personal, too wishful, and too private for verification.
There is no single approach to truth. each of these three has its limitations. “Life,” wrote Goethe, “divided by human reason leaves a remainder.” Pure reasoning does not reveal with certainty life’s meaning or values. Nor does it alone give us an understanding of the processes of life. Reason has done better once allied with the experimental, experiential method of modern science. However, all the sciences taken together have not revealed to us either life’s meaning or life’s values. Their aim and method describe the universe and processes of life better than any other method, but leave us uncertain in the more vital issues of purpose, meaning, value, and morality. Intuition is subjective and personal, centered in feeling; and it can easily be misleading and confusing.
These ways of knowing are all good and should be used wherever and whenever effective. each method should check as far as possible on the others and each serve where the other methods fail. We need the critical approach of reason, verifiability through experience, and the wisdom of intuition – particularly when other methods fail us.
We believe that the Holy Ghost is given to guide us in our search for truth, in our discernment of the right. In our reasoning, in our experience, in our intuition, the Holy Ghost may take the lead of our minds and verify or not confirm our thoughts. The Holy ghost uses the medium of feeling, of intuition, perhaps more than any other. When our minds are clarified through the power of the Holy Ghost, we feel that our ideas are right and inspired of God.
This process is described well in a revelation to Oliver Cowdery. Oliver had asked for the privilege of translating. After much pleading it was granted to him. Note what happened. He thought the Holy ghost operated without his thinking and working. In this he erred and failed.
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me. (D. & C. 9:7-9)
When the Holy ghost enlightens the mind it is accompanied by a “burning,” a feeling for which fire is the symbol used in scripture. Under the influence of the Holy Ghost, we think and feel that we know the truth and the right. the Holy Ghost does not set aside reason, experience, and intuition. It utilizes these three, working with and through them. the question may have arisen in your minds: How can one know if one is inspired of the Holy Ghost? This is a difficult, yet very vital question. It merits serious consideration even thought it cannot be answered to our perfect satisfaction.
Ways of Verifying Inspiration from the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost is reliable. He will not deceive. the problem lies in man’s ability to gain his inspiration and to know when he has it. A well meaning person may mistake his own desire for the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It is difficult, if not impossible, to describe feeling. The inspiration of the Holy Ghost must be experienced to be known. However, let us try to suggest what such an experience is like.
A young missionary in Germany, after one year in the field, was planning to conduct a meeting in a village. He had arranged to have the district president and a local German brother do the preaching. The morning of the meeting the missionary learned that neither of the other men could be there. The preaching was left to him and his companion, who had been in Germany seven weeks. The two knelt down in prayer and spent the day in fasting, prayer, and study. That evening they broke fast and with prayerful hearts rode their bicycles to the village.
The young missionary gave his memorized two-minute talk. The elder missionary began his sermon, in which he planned to show the reasonableness of continuous revelation and the restoration of the gospel. He stayed with his subject, but something wonderful happened. He gave no thought to the language. New ideas, not thought of during the day, came to mind and fit effectively into his planned talk. A wonderful feeling of peace and power came into his mind and heart. He knew he was speaking with the power of God. When he was finished he thought he had spoken for ten or fifteen minutes; but he found that it had been forty-five minutes. An intelligent, faithful sister said to him, “Brother Jones, you have never before spoken like this.”
There is no way to prove to another that he spoke under the influence of the Holy Ghost, but he believed so. Since the Holy Ghost does witness to us personally, and in feeling as well as in thought, we believe that the inspiration of the Holy Ghost should be checked by other means. We submit a few questions by which we may tell if we or others are inspired of the Holy Ghost.
1. Is this inspiration consistent with the great fundamentals of the gospel of Jesus Christ? We would not expect the Holy Ghost, bearing witness of the Father and the Son and commissioned to lead us to truth, to inspire any man with teachings not in harmony with the true concept of God, man, and the mission of Christ. The Holy Ghost does not teach false doctrines such as predestination, original sin, or the partiality and injustice of God. Every Latter-day Saint should learn and keep in mind the fundamental doctrines of the Church and check his inspiration and that of other men by the great fundamentals of religion which have been revealed again and again to man, and which appeal to our minds and hearts as being true – fundamentals such as the justice, mercy, and love of God, the free agency, brotherhood, purpose, eternal progression of man, and that salvation is a cooperative effort between deity and man, by grace and by individual merit.
2. Is the inspiration consistent with the Spirit and emphasis of Christ? The Savior sent the Comforter. This same Comforter is to bear witness of Christ. When we or any man act in an unchristianlike manner – hatefully, greedily, selfishly, unmercifully, lustfully, unforgivingly – we may be assured that we are not moved upon by the Holy ghost. True, one may speak and “reprove with sharpness” but even this is done in a spirit of love and mercy.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile – Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D. & C. 121:41-46)
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. but the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:14-18)
The spirit of strife and contention, of evil speaking, of anger and envy, is not Christ-like and is not inspired of the Holy Ghost.
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. (III Nephi 11:29, 30)
3. Is the inspiration productive of good – of virtue, knowledge, love, good will – in life? The story is told of a father who felt inspired of the Holy Ghost to exercise his authority in his own home. The results: a brokenhearted, browbeaten wife, and all of his sons out of the church and bitter toward religion. Then there was the missionary who, on the basis of his own inspiration, excommunicated thirty-two members in one branch. this was back in the early days when communication and supervision by mission authority were limited. the result: broken homes, bitter children, troubled marriages, evil-speaking among the saints, and a cloud of suspicion and division hanging over the branch.
But the fruit of the Spirit (including the Holy Ghost) is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)
4. Can the inspiration stand the test of counsel? The inspiration of the Holy ghost usually comes to an individual, though on public occasions many may feel it. If a person feels inspired of the Holy ghost, should he not be willing to check open-mindedly his own inspiration by that of others? There are those around us, especially the bishop, and also the stake president, our parents and others, who also have a right to revelation. Though we may choose to disregard their counsel, we should at least give it a hearing. We should check our own inspiration by the counsel of those called to preside over us and by those whose character and understanding we trust.
5. Do I have a right to inspiration in this matter? During the depression in the thirties, a fine religious girl, unmarried and with a good job, was visited by a man with this message:
Last night, Sister —–, the Holy Ghost revealed to me that you should marry me.” She was a bit shocked, but collected her wits and asked for time too think it over. Being a faithful and devout person, she hesitated to question the revelation of the Holy Ghost.
While the girl was yet troubled over the proposal another man in the stake approached her, saying that he had had a dream of the Lord and knew he was to marry her. This combination of circumstances was too much for her. She went to a member of the Council of the Twelve for advice. he said to her in kindness:
“Don’t you think that since this affair concerns you so deeply the Lord would also reveal his will to you as well as to one of those men?”
This reply satisfied the young woman. Everyone has a right to inspiration according to his office and calling in life and in the Church.
6. Finally, in an important matter in which you are seeking divine guidance, do you give yourself time? Many questions of life are fraught with emotion, even with intense feeling. To distinguish between one’s own feeling and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost at a single moment may be difficult. We should take a little time with problems, praying again and again and trying to attain a sustained feeling that is constant regardless of our own emotional state.
For example, the girl who is proposed to on a moonlight night should not have to rely upon heavenly inspiration in that wonderful moment. Long before, after quiet, thoughtful and prayer consideration of the possibility of such a proposal, she should have been prepared with the answer. Without previously giving the matter this consideration, and being taken off guard, she is in no position to seek a flash of inspiration at the moment.
Our Need for the Witness of the Spirit
In Chapter Three we suggested that religion embraces two things: spirituality (man’s relationship to Deity), and morality (certain of man’s dealings with fellow man). Spirituality thus defined is peculiar to religion. It rests on faith in deity. it is cultivated through worship, devotion, prayer, meditation, and loving service. Its rewards are faith, comfort, consolation, and the assurance that one “does not walk alone” – the feeling that one is living in harmony with the Divine will and purpose. all of this makes life significant. It brings joy and peace. We need this feeling as we go through life. We need the guidance of the Holy Ghost also in coping with the specific responsibilities of life. Let us consider some areas in which we especially need the guidance of the Comforter.
A college girl asks: “Should a girl pray about her marriage?” If one cannot pray about a step so consequential for life and happiness as that, why pray over any personal decision? We need to face the larger issues of life – marriage, vocational choice, place of residence, the welfare of husband and wife, of each child, community, national and international problems in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Individual matters need to be considered in the light of larger issues of our spiritual and moral welfare, eternal life, God’s will. The Holy Ghost is a fitting source of help in these matters.
2. We need to cultivate the witness of the Holy Ghost in matters of faith and testimony. Man cannot know of himself with any marked degree of certainty that God lives, that life is eternal, that Jesus is the Christ. Philosophy and science can give us only limited assurance in questions of faith. Even the moral life – justice and mercy among men – though reassuring, is not in itself wholly convincing of the reality of God. if we are to know with certitude, with abiding assurance and feeling, it will come to us only by the “still small voice” bearing witness to us. So vital is such a testimony to us that it behooves us to seek and do our part to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost. With that witness we can feel and say, with Paul:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38, 39)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom. 8:35)
3. We need the Holy Ghost in our work in the Church. This statement is self-evident, but we need to ponder the reasons for it more often.
a. We are engaged in the work of Jesus Christ. You will remember that when he was preparing to ascend to the father, following his resurrection, he told the Twelve not to depart from Jerusalem until the promise of the father should come, for
… ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
If the Twelve, who knew and had seen the resurrected Christ, were told to wait upon the Holy Ghost, might not we, who work in the church, seek diligently to attain the same influence? The answer is well stated in a modern revelation:
And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach. … And as ye lift up your voices by the Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good; For, behold, the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and of the Son. (D. & C. 42:14, 165, 17(
This applies not only to teaching, but to every labor in the Church. We are laymen and are not professionally trained for church work. The Lord entrusts us with his work on the assumption that inspiration from heaven will make up for our human deficiencies. How these stand out when we are left to ourselves1 Conversely, how good and beautiful is the Spirit of Deity operating through a sincere, humble, and loving person! It is only with power from on high that any phase of our Church life can be carried on truly and be permanently effective. This Peter recognized in the organization of the Pristine Church. You recall that in the expansion of its organization, seven men were chosen to care for the widows of the Church. Peter charged the people to choose from among them
… seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. (Acts 6:3)
4. We need the Holy ghost to help us resist temptation. As Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal, Peter, James, and John fell asleep. When he returned to them, he spoke these memorable words:
Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:38)
We receive no strength from the temptation itself to withstand it. Strength must come from something in us. That is why Paul said, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” That too is why Alma advised his son Helaman to
Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Alma 37:33)
“The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” “Pride goeth before a fall.” Each of us needs to be fortified with the Comforter, to give heed to the “still small voice” that we may “keep to the plain road” and not succumb to the weaknesses of the flesh and to the selfish desires of human nature.
5. Finally, and in summary, we need the Holy Ghost to help us understand and to keep us constantly growing in our understanding of all the principles of the gospel, that we might become true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost can help. We like the statement pertaining to this point found in II Peter:
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God ,and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; And to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience, and to patience, godliness; And to godliness, brotherly kindness, charity. for if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:1-8)
How We May Receive the Witness of the Spirit
In the Doctrine and Covenants we read:
A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him. (D. & C. 130:28)
Our need of the Holy Ghost may be ever so great, but we can receive his influence only by right thinking and right living. Lust for power, for recognition among men, the love of money and the things money can buy, pleasure seeking – not as recreation, but as a major quest in life – are interests incompatible with the Spirit of Christ which the Holy Ghost fosters among men.
The Holy Ghost is given to us because of our faith in Christ, our repentance, and our spiritual rebirth to which we bear witness in baptism. His mission is to lead us into the fuller meaning and realization of Christian discipleship. to enjoy this gift we must keep alive our faith in Christ. repentance must be continuous, and our baptism must be renewed each week as we partake of the sacrament. Our whole living must be consistently oriented to our Christian faith. Moroni states the intimate relationship among the first principles and ordinances of the gospel better than any other writer we can recall:
And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments, and the fulfilling of commandments bringeth remission of sins; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come when all the saints shall dwell with God. (Moroni 8:25, 26)