The most unique feature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that it is governed by the Savior, through the promptings and direction of the Spirit. Those called to serve will prayerfully seek the inspiration of the Spirit to supplement and even go before their own natural abilities. Whenever the Church is upon the earth, there is always this reference to the Spirit as a guide. This is true, no matter what the background of the leaders might be.
Two classic examples of this are Paul, the great New Testament prophet, and Brigham Young, the second president of the Church. Paul was a Pharisee and a pupil of Gamaliel. In addition to this, he was a member of the Sanhedrin. If anyone could approach his work with the credentials of an intellectual and a scholar, he could. Yet after his conversion, he was very careful to draw a distinction between these two approaches. In his letter to the Corinthians, he said:
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (See 1 Corinthians 2:11–14.)
Brigham Young was a pragmatist, level-headed and down-to-earth. A glazier by trade, he became the second president of the Church after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He led the Saints into a trackless waste and kept them from perishing until they forged a new life by making the desert blossom as the rose (see Isaiah 35:1). He recognized the practical and sensible aspects of religious life and service to God; yet from this down-to-earth, practical prophet come these words:
“The eye, the ear, the hand, all the senses may be deceived, but the Spirit of God cannot be deceived; and when inspired with that Spirit, the whole man is filled with knowledge, he can see with a spiritual eye, and he knows that which is beyond the power of man to controvert” (Journal of Discourses, 16:46). We learn from these two great prophets that there is need to go beyond the word and find the power and strength that can come from the Spirit.
When we speak of the Spirit, we refer to the gift of the Holy Ghost. While the light of Christ enlightens all who come into the world, the spirit of the Holy Ghost is something more. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead; a personage of spirit, he speaks not for himself, but testifies to all that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and conveys to man the mind and will of the Lord (see John 16:13–15). He has a sanctifying and cleansing influence upon the souls of men and is the source of spiritual gifts. Just as Ephesians tells us that there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (see Ephesians 4:5), so this gift of the Holy Ghost can only come in one way. Only the right authority is acceptable for baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost, and this was made clear when Paul traveled to Ephesus and rebaptized some who had not been baptized with the right authority and then conferred upon them the Holy Ghost (see Acts 19).
While the Spirit of the Holy Ghost will witness to a person that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Ghost comes only after a person has been baptized into the Church. It can be identified with feelings of peace and assurance to the prayerful and honest seeker for truth, and thus the scripture: “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2). “Therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8).
Some think that our ultimate judgment and reward will be based on how many laws and commandments we keep and how many we do not keep. While in a sense this is true, it misses the broader and spiritual purpose for keeping the commandments. When I was younger, I lived to play basketball. It was on my mind constantly. I spent countless hours practicing. Gradually I began to go through the moves automatically, without thinking about them. Physically and mentally I had become conditioned to do certain things by instinct. I had practiced them until they became natural to me.
In like manner, we keep the commandments and teachings of the gospel in order to condition us spiritually. It is not a matter of how many laws we keep and how many we do not keep. We keep the commandments because they are the laws that govern the Spirit. The Spirit in turn will sanctify us, condition us spiritually, and eventually prepare us to live in the kingdom where God is. Hence the scripture: “They who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:21). The laws that govern the Spirit are nothing more nor less than the laws that govern the Church. In addition, there is also an outpouring of the Spirit for those loyal to and willing to uphold the prophet and others who have been called to preside.
That the Spirit can and should have power in our lives and that we can have definite and measurable experiences associated with the Spirit is quite clear. One need only refer to the great variety of gifts of the Spirit promised to all who live the laws and commandments of Christ. We should seek the Spirit through the prayer of faith and through keeping the commandments, including partaking of the sacrament worthily, so that we might “have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:79).
The sons of Mosiah, for instance, were fasting and praying in preparation for their mission to the Lamanites; they wanted a portion of the Spirit of the Lord to go with them and abide with them. The answer is recorded in this verse: “And it came to pass that the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted. And they were comforted” (Alma 17:10). Would you not be comforted if the Lord, by his Spirit, gave you the same experience? The prophet Alma says: “And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14.)
Alma was making sure that the members of the Church had not just received the gift of the Holy Ghost, but also had truly received the sanctifying and cleansing power of that great Spirit. He said the way you can tell is when you become refreshed spiritually, as if you had been born anew. He said that the feelings and attitudes of your heart will be truly changed for the good. That your very appearance will begin to take upon itself the image of Christ.
What a great and powerful friend is this gift of the Holy Ghost! Certainly all who will turn to the Savior and abide by his laws will be healed by this Spirit (see 3 Nephi 9:13). They will have the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16), they will be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), they will begin to have the image of Christ in their countenances (see Alma 5:14). Truly the gospel comes, as Paul said, not only in word, “but also in power,” the sanctifying, cleansing, soul-enlarging power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Brigham Young had a dream in which Joseph Smith appeared to him with the following advice: “Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the spirit of the Lord they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit,” he said. (Elden J. Watson, comp., Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1846–1847, Salt Lake City, 1971, pp. 529–30.)
And these final words from the Doctrine and Covenants: “Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:68).
And thus we have the end result of the workings of the Spirit, to bring us face to face with Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Loyalty to the prophets and prayerful obedience to the word of God will bring the power of the Spirit. The enlarging influence of the Spirit will sanctify us, will condition us spiritually, and prepare us to see Him face to face and converse as one speaketh to another, and to live in his kingdom, even the celestial kingdom.
The witness of the Holy Ghost, As borne by those who know
Has lifted me again to thee, O Father of my soul.
While listening to them testify, The Spirit fills my heart,
Dispels the gloom, Confirms the right. Pure truth it does impart.
I know that thou are in thy heav’n, I know the Savior reigns;
I know a prophet speaks to us, For our eternal gain.
The Holy Spirit moves all doubt, It lights the heart of man.
It says to all, “return to me, Come follow my great plan.”
My eyes are wet, my heart is full, The Spirit speaks today.
Oh Lord, wilt thou my life renew, And in my bosom stay.
As testimony fills my heart, It dulls the pain of days;
For one brief moment heaven’s view Is fixed before my gaze.
May the Lord help us to reach beyond the words of life and to capture this great spirit, I pray. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.