The Divinity of Jesus Christ by Orson F. Whitney

Orson F. Whitney was born on 1 July 1855 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 9 April 1906 by President Joseph F. Smith. Elder Whitney died on 16 May 1931 in Salt Lake City at age 75. This is an address delivered at the Sunday evening session of the MIA Jubilee Conference held on 7 June 1925.

Orson F. Whitney

Orson F. Whitney

THE DIVINITY OF JESUS CHRIST

By Elder Orson F. Whitney, of the Council of the Twelve

Presbyterianism’s Problem

An American newspaper of recent date has a communicated article from which I take the following:

Columbus, Ohio, May 19, 1925.—The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which for the purpose of Church government corresponds to the Congress of the United States, is likely to decide within the next week whether a minister may still remain a minister if he answers: ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I don’t believe so,’ when asked whether Jesus Christ really raised the dead, walked on water and was born of a virgin mother. * * *

The Presbyterian Church will face* its problem with two determined groups standing militant on either side of the question and a third group in the middle.

The fundamentalists, who accept the Bible as the Divine word, hold that Jesus, to be God, must be omnipotent, capable of any miracle. * * * the all-powerful God of the universe.

The modernists, or religious radicals of the clergy, who have been most conspicuous in New York, do not assert that Jesus Christ was no miracle worker. They do not claim that he would be unable, if so minded, to perform a modern miracle. They simply aren’t convinced that he was or could.

The fundamentalists want the dissenters to accept the Presbyterian religion as it is, or get out of the Presbyterian clergy. The modernists, regarding themselves as advanced thinkers, want the rest to catch up with them. And the element in between, who seem to be divided as to their leanings, want above all a constitutional, judicial trial of the case and abhor the idea of summary action.”

Thus far the article in question.

The M. I. A. Slogan

At a time when the Divine character and mission of the world’s Redeemer are being questioned, even by many professing Christians, it is a cause for congratulation and rejoicing that there is still found [p.220] “faith on the earth”—faith in Jesus Christ as the very Son of God, as the virgin-born Savior of mankind, as the anointed and foreordained messenger of Him who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Among those who hold fast to this conviction, are the Latter-day Saints, or “Mormons.” And tonight we unfurl our banner, emblazoned with the slogan of the young men and young women of Zion: “We stand for an individual testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ.”

it is a cause for congratulation and rejoicing that there is still found "faith on the earth"—faith in Jesus Christ as the very Son of God.

it is a cause for congratulation and rejoicing that there is still found “faith on the earth”—faith in Jesus Christ as the very Son of God.
Image courtesy LDS.org

How Testimony Comes

Such testimony can come but in one way—God’s way, not man’s. Books can not give it. Schools can not bestow it. No human power can impart it. It comes, if it comes at all, as a gift of God, by direct and immediate revelation from on high.

Said Jesus to his chief Apostle: “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then said Jesus: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:15-17).

Such was the basis of Peter’s testimony and such is the basis of every real testimony of like character. They all rest upon the same foundation.

Testimony means evidence, and it may consist of divers things, fruits of the Gospel’s varied gifts. Dreams, visions, prophecies, tongues and their interpretation, healings and other manifestations of the Divine Spirit, are all included in the category.

The Surest Evidence

But the greatest and most convincing of all testimonies is the soul’s illumination under the kindling and enlightening power of the Holy Ghost—the Comforter, promised by the Savior to his disciples, to abide with them after he had departed, to bring things past to their remembrance and show them things to come, making manifest the things of God, past, present and future.

God’s Greatest Gift

By that Spirit and by that alone can men know God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent—to know whom, and to act consistently with that knowledge, is to lay hold upon eternal life. No greater thing can come to men while in the flesh than the knowledge of how to secure that greatest of all heavenly gifts.

To know God, man must know himself, must know whence he came, why he is here, what is expected of him by the One who sent him here, where he is going when he leaves this mortal life, and what awaits him in the great hereafter. The Holy Spirit is the [p.221] fountain from which flows this knowledge, the most precious that men can possess. By means of it comes the testimony that Jesus Christ was and is Divine.

The Everlasting Gospel

Such a testimony was had by the patriarchs and prophets of old. They were not without the gospel, and its glorious gifts. The Holy Ghost did not make its first appearance upon this planet in the days of Jesus and his Apostles. Men had seen God before that time, and had enjoyed the sweet influence and wonder-working power of his Spirit. Framed in the heavens before this earth was organized, the gospel had been among men in a series of dispensations, long before it was preached by the Apostles in the meridian of time.

Testimony of the Ages

 It took a God to die for all men—foes as well as friends—and that act alone stamps divinity upon the character and mission of Jesus Christ. Image courtesy LDS.org

It took a God to die for all men—foes as well as friends—and that act alone stamps divinity upon the character and mission of Jesus Christ.
Image courtesy LDS.org

“I know that my Redeemer liveth”—the burden of righteous Job’s exultant cry, welling up from the depths of his sorely tried, suffering, yet patient soul—is echoed from ten thousand hearts, yea, ten thousand times ten thousand of the faithful and the just, whose heaven-inspired testimonies have come ringing down the ages, from the days of Adam to the days of Joseph Smith. The Holy Scriptures are replete with testimonies of Christ’s divinity, attested by miracles and wonders manifold.

A Life and Death Divine

But even if Christ had wrought no miracle—even if he had not walked upon the water, healed the sick, cast out devils, given sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, or done anything else that men deem supernatural, was there not that about him which bore unimpeachable testimony to his divinity?

What could be more divine than the life of One who “went about doing good,” teaching men to forgive their enemies, to pray for those who persecuted them, and to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them? And did he not set the example of Godlike magnanimity, by craving, while upon the cross in the agonies of death, Heaven’s pardon upon his guilty murderers? “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

What could be more divine than that. Who but a God could offer such a prayer at such a time? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” But here was One who could lay down his life for his enemies, as well as his friends. No mere man could do that. It took a God to die for all men—foes as well as friends—and that act alone stamps divinity upon the character and mission of Jesus Christ.

The Men Who Knew

The Twelve Apostles were his special witnesses. As such they had to know beyond all question that he was what he claimed to be. Image courtesy LDS.org

The Twelve Apostles were his special witnesses. As such they had to know beyond all question that he was what he claimed to be.
Image courtesy LDS.org

The Twelve Apostles were his special witnesses. As such they [p.222] had to know beyond all question that he was what he claimed to be. It was a new thing that was required of them. They were to vouch for his resurrection—and there had been no resurrection upon this planet until Christ came forth from the grave. He was “the first fruits of them that slept.” Those Apostles had to know, not merely believe. They could not go into the world and say: “We believe Jesus has risen from the dead—such is our opinion, our conviction.” What impression would that have made upon a sin-hardened generation? No; mere belief would not suffice in their case. They must know, and they did know, for they had seen and heard him, had even been permitted to touch him, that they might be convinced that he was indeed the resurrection and the life. It was their right to possess this knowledge, owing to the unique character of their mission. But the world at large was required to believe what the Apostles testified concerning him.

The Case of Thomas

One of the Twelve was absent when his brethren received their first visitation from the risen Redeemer; and when they said, “We have seen the Lord,” he—Thomas—answered: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Subsequently the Savior appeared to Thomas, saying: “Behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” “My Lord and my God,” exclaimed the doubter—and was convinced (John 20:24-28.

Thomas has been censured for demanding to see and to feel before he would believe. How much blame attaches to him for doubting, I will not presume to say. But this much seems clear: He had the same right as the rest of the Twelve to a personal appearing of the Lord—the right to come in contact with him of whose resurrection he was required to testify. The others had seen and heard—perhaps had even felt, for Jesus offered them that privilege. Why should not Thomas share in the same experience? What else could completely qualify him as a special witness of the resurrection?

Belief and Knowledge

Sign-seeking is an abomination, indicating an adulterous disposition. It is blessed to believe without seeing, since by the exercise of faith comes spiritual development, one of the great objects of man’s earthly existence; while knowledge, by swallowing up faith, prevents its exercise, thus hindering that development. “Knowledge is power;” and all things are to be known in due season. But premature knowledge—knowing at the wrong time—is fatal both to progress and to happiness.

The case of the Apostles was exceptional. They stood in a peculiar position. It was better for them to know—nay, absolutely [p.223] essential—in order to give the requisite force and power to their tremendous testimony.

Power From on High

And yet, even in their case, something more than the seeing of the eye, than the hearing of the ear, than the touch of the senses, was necessary to enable them to know and to testify of Christ’s divinity. Peter knew, before the resurrection, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God—knew it by divine revelation; and his brethren of the Twelve were entitled to the same knowledge, by the same means of imparting it.

That something besides his appearing to them in a resurrected state was necessary to qualify them for their work is shown by the fact that after that appearing, and after he had commissioned them to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,” they were commanded by him to tarry at Jerusalem until they were “endued with power from on high.” They obeyed, and the power came upon them—”a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind.” “Cloven tongues like as of fire * * * sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4).

That same power the Apostles gave to others, even to all who had faith in Jesus Christ, who had repented of their sins, and had been cleansed by baptism at the hands of those having divine authority to so officiate; to the end that they might receive the Holy Ghost and by continued obedience win life everlasting.

Latter-day Testimony

Joseph, the martyred Prophet, who gave his life to lay the foundations of this work—he left upon record more than one mighty testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ. Image courtesy LDS.org

Joseph, the martyred Prophet, who gave his life to lay the foundations of this work—he left upon record more than one mighty testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Image courtesy LDS.org

So much for the days of old. Now as to modern times. Joseph Smith, to whom the Father and the Son revealed themselves in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and through whom the everlasting gospel, with all its ancient gifts and blessings, was restored at the opening of this last and greatest of the gospel dispensations; Joseph Smith, who with Sidney Rigdon saw the Son of God sitting on the right hand of God, and gazed upon the glories of eternity; Joseph Smith, who with Oliver Cowdery beheld Jehovah, even Jesus Christ, standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit in the Kirtland Temple; Joseph, the martyred Prophet, who gave his life to lay the foundations of this work—he left upon record more than one mighty testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ. And tens of thousands of faithful Saints have rejoiced and are rejoicing in those testimonies, confirmed to them by the all-convincing power of the Holy Ghost.

In the Mission Field

May I add my mite to the mass of evidence upon this all-important theme? Fifty years ago, or something less, I was a young [p.224] missionary in the State of Pennsylvania. I had been praying for a testimony of the truth, but beyond that had not displayed much zeal in missionary labor. My companion, a veteran in the cause, chided me for my lack of diligence in this direction. “You ought to be studying the books of the Church,” said he; “you were sent out to preach the Gospel, not to write for the newspapers”—for that was what I was doing at the time.

I knew he was right, but I still kept on, fascinated by the discovery that I could wield a pen, and preferring that to any other occupation except the drama, my early ambition, which I had laid upon the altar when, as a youth of twenty-one, I accepted a call to the mission field.

In Gethsemane

He arose and walked to where the Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! Image courtesy LDS.org.

He arose and walked to where the Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep!
Image courtesy LDS.org.

One night I dreamed—if dream it may be called—that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as I see this congregation. I stood behind a tree in the foreground, where I could see without being seen. Jesus, with Peter, James and John, came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, he passed over to the other side, where he also knelt and prayed. It was the same prayer with which we are all familiar: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:36-44; Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:42).

As he prayed the tears streamed down his face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I wept also, out of pure sympathy with his great sorrow. My whole heart went out to him, I loved him with all my soul, and longed to be with him as I longed for nothing else.

Presently he arose and walked to where the Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! He shook them gently, awoke them, and in a tone of tender reproach, untinctured by the least suggestion of anger or scolding asked them if they could not watch with him one hour. There he was, with the weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders, with the pangs of every man, woman and child shooting through his sensitive soul—and they could not watch with him one poor hour!

Returning to his place, he prayed again, and then went back and found them again sleeping. Again he awoke them, admonished them, and returned and prayed as before. Three times this happened, until I was perfectly familiar with his appearance—face, form and movements. He was of noble stature and of majestic mien—not at all the weak, effeminate being that some painters have portrayed—a very God among men, yet as meek and lowly as a little child.

All at once the circumstance seemed to change, the scene remaining just the same. Instead of before, it was after the crucifixion, and the Savior, with those three Apostles, now stood together in a group [p.225] at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into Heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran out from behind the tree, fell at his feet, clasped him around the knees, and begged him to take me with him.

I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped and raised me up and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real, that I felt the very warmth of his bosom against which I rested. Then He said: “No, my son; these have finished their work, and they may go with me, but you must stay and finish yours.” Still I clung to him. Gazing up into his face—for he was taller than I—I besought him most earnestly: “Well, promise me that I will come to you at the last.” He smiled sweetly and tenderly and replied: “That will depend entirely upon yourself.” I awoke with a sob in my throat, and it was morning.

The Moral of the Tale

“That’s from God,” said my companion (Elder A. M. Musser), when I had related it to him. “I don’t need to be told that,” was my reply. I saw the moral clearly. I had never thought that I would be an Apostle, or hold any other office in the Church; and it did not occur to me even then. Yet I knew that those sleeping apostles meant me. I was asleep at my post—as any man is, or any woman, who, having been divinely appointed to do one thing, does another.

President Young’s Counsel

But from that hour all was changed—I was a different man. I did not give up writing, for President Brigham Young, having noticed some of my contributions in the home papers, wrote advising me to cultivate what he called my “gift for writing” so that I might use it in future years “for the establishment of truth and righteousness upon the earth.” This was his last word of counsel to me. He died the same year, while I was still in the mission field, though laboring then in the State of Ohio. I continued to write, but it was for the Church and Kingdom of God. I held that first and foremost; all else was secondary.

The Speaker’s Testimony

Then came the divine illumination, which is greater than all dreams, visions, and other manifestations combined. By the light of God’s candle—the gift of the Holy Ghost—I saw what till then I had never seen, I learned what till then I had never known, I loved the Lord as I had never loved Him before. My soul was satisfied, my joy was full, for I had a testimony of the truth, and it has remained with me to this day.

I know that my Redeemer liveth. Not even Job knew it better. I have evidence that I can not doubt; and this is why I am found among those who tonight unfurl the slogan for which we stand, possessing [p.226] and proclaiming an individual testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ.

I know that my Redeemer liveth.. Image courtesy LDS.org

I know that my Redeemer liveth.
Image courtesy LDS.org

THE DIVINE REDEEMER

 

He wandered through the faithless world,

A Prince in shepherd guise;

He called his scattered flock, but few

The voice could recognize;

For minds upborne by hollow pride.

Or dimmed by sordid lust.

Ne’er look for kings in peasant’s garb.

For diamonds in the dust.

 

Wept he above a city doomed,

Her temple, walls and towers.

O’er palaces where recreant priests

Usurped unhallowed powers.

“I am the Way, the Life, the Light!”

Alas! ’twas heeded not.

Ignored—nay, mocked God’s Messenger,

And spurned the gift he brought.

 

O bane of damning unbelief!

Thou source of lasting strife.

Thou stumbling stone, thou barrier ‘thwart

The gates of endless life!

O love of self, and Mammon’s lust.

Twin portals to despair,

Where bigotry, the blinded bat,

Flaps through the midnight air!

 

Through these, gloom-wrapt Gethsemane!

Thy glens of guilty shade

Grieved o’er the sinless Son of God,

By gold-bought kiss betrayed:

Beheld him unresisting dragged.

Forsaken, friendless, lone,

To halls where dark-browed Hatred sat

On Judgment’s lofty throne.

 

As sheep before his shearers, dumb.

Those patient lips were mute;

The clamorous charge of taunting tongues

He deigned not to dispute.

They smote with cruel palm a face

Which felt yet bore the sting;

Then crowned with thorns his quivering blow,

And, mocking, hailed him, “King!”

 

Transfixed he hung—O crime of crimes!

The God whom worlds adore.

“Father forgive them!” Drained the dregs:

Immanuel was no more.

No more where thunders shook the earth,

Where lightnings, ‘thwart the gloom,

Saw that unconquered Spirit spurn [p.227]

 

Far-flashing on its wings of light,

A falchion from its sheath,

It cleft the realms of darkness and

Dissolved the bands of death.

Hell’s dungeons burst, wide open swung

The everlasting bars,

Whereby the ransomed soul shall win

Those heights beyond the stars.

 

ELIAS, part of Canto 3.

Whitney, Orson F. “The Divinity of Jesus Christ.” Improvement Era Vol. 29, No. 3 (Jan 1926), 119-127.

The Sincere Investigator, by Hugh B. Brown

President Hugh B. Brown served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and also as a member of the First Presidency for a number of years and was among the best-loved general authorities of his time. This eloquent testimony of the search for truth comes from the Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown compiled by his grandson Edwin B. Firmage mostly from personal interviews recorded over eighteen months, but also from speeches, and other source material created during President Brown’s lifetime. The title is my own addition, but most of the text comes from the final chapter of An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown.

Hugh B. Brown

Hugh B. Brown. Image courtesy of LDS.org

The Sincere Investigator

President Hugh B. Brown

THERE SEEMS TODAY TO be a tendency toward flippant thinking, a lack of thought. There seems to be a tendency to belittle what our fathers and mothers thought because we feel we have made some progress scientifically. We are too ready to conclude that everything from past generations is now folly and that our main duty today, as far as the past is concerned, is to get away from it.

There is not enough of the attitude of the sincere investigator among us. When we come into a new field of research that will challenge our due and honest consideration, we should be warned against coming too quickly to a conclusion, of forming a decision too hastily. We should be scientific—that is, open-minded, approaching new problems without prejudice, deferring a decision until all the facts are in.

Some say that the open-minded leave room for doubt. But I believe we should doubt some of the things we hear. Doubt has a place if it can stir in one an interest to go out and find the truth for one’s self. I should like to awaken in everyone a desire to investigate, to make an independent study of religion, and to know for themselves whether or not the teachings of the Mormon church are true.

I should like to see everyone prepared to defend the religion of his or her parents, not because it was the religion of our fathers and mothers but because they have found it to be the true religion. If one approaches it with an open mind, with a desire to know the truth, and if one questions with a sincere heart what one hears from time to time, he or she will be on the road to growth and service.

There are altogether too many people in the world who are willing to accept as true whatever is printed in a book or delivered from a pulpit. Their faith never goes below the surface soil of authority.

I plead with everyone I meet that they may drive their faith down through that soil and get hold of the solid truth that they may be able to withstand the winds and storms of indecision and of doubt, of opposition and persecution. Then, and only then, will we be able to defend our religion successfully. When I speak of defending our religion, I do not mean such defense as an army makes on the battlefield but the defense of clean and upright and virtuous life lived in harmony with an intelligent belief and understanding of the gospel. As Mormons, we should do with religion as we do with music, not defend it but simply render it. It needs no defense. The living of religion is, after all, the greatest sermon, and if all of us would live it, we would create a symphony which would be appreciated by all. . . .

I have been very grateful that the freedom, dignity, and integrity of the individual are basic in church doctrine. We are free to think and express our opinions in the church. Fear will not stifle thought. God himself refuses to trammel free agency even though its exercise sometimes teaches painful lessons. Both creative science and revealed religion find their fullest and truest expression in the climate of freedom.

As we all proceed to make our individual “declarations of independence,” I hope we can all distinguish between liberty and license, that we can realize that freedom is only a blessing if it is accompanied by wisdom and intelligence. At the same time, we all need to resist the down-drag of mental laziness which sometimes leads to the premature hardening of the intellectual arteries. And I would especially urge all of us to avoid sluggishness of spirit, which is the worst kind of lethargy. Some people are phlegmatic to the degree that would make a turtle seem intolerably vivacious.

I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent—if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression.

Both science and religion beget humility. Scientists and teachers of religion disagree among themselves on theological and other subjects. Even in our own church men and women take issue with one another and contend for their own interpretations. This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence nor any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think.

We should all be interested in academic research. We must go out on the research front and continue to explore the vast unknown. We should be in the forefront of learning in all fields, for revelation does not come only through the prophet of God nor only directly from heaven in visions or dreams. Revelation may come in the laboratory, out of the test tube, out of the thinking mind and the inquiring soul, out of search and research and prayer and inspiration. We must be unafraid to contend for what we are thinking and to combat error with truth in this divided and imperiled world, and we must do it with the unfaltering faith that God is still in his heaven even though all is not well with the world.

We should be dauntless in our pursuit of truth and resist all demands for unthinking conformity. No one would have us become mere tape recorders of other people’s thoughts. We should be modest and teachable and seek to know the truth by study and faith. There have been times when progress was halted by thought control. Tolerance and truth demand that all be heard and that competing ideas be tested against each other so that the best, which might not always be our own, can prevail. Knowledge is most complete and dependable when all points of view are heard. We are in a world of restlessness and skepticism, where old things are not only challenged but often disappear, but also a world of miraculous achievement, undreamed of accomplishment, and terrifying power….

One of the most important things in the world is freedom of the mind; from this all other freedoms spring. Such freedom is necessarily dangerous, for one cannot think right without running the risk of thinking wrong, but generally more thinking is the antidote for the evils that spring from wrong thinking.

More thinking is required, and we should all exercise our God-given right to think and be unafraid to express our opinions, with proper respect for those to whom we talk and proper acknowledgement of our own shortcomings….

While I believe all that God has revealed, I am not quite sure I understand what he has revealed, and the fact that God has promised further revelation is to me a challenge to keep an open mind and be prepared to follow wherever my search for truth may lead.

We Mormons have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth yet to be discovered. Revealed insights should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers—that we in fact have a corner on truth. For we do not.

And while all members should respect, support, and heed the teachings of the authorities of the church, no one should accept a statement and base his or her testimony upon it, no matter who makes it, until he or she has, under mature examination, found it to be true and worthwhile; then one’s logical deductions may be confirmed by the spirit of revelation to his or her spirit, because real conversion must come from within.

I hope that the spirit of the Holy Ghost rests upon everyone and leads us all back into the presence of our heavenly parents. I hope that everyone might conduct his or her life in such a manner as to be worthy of God’s continued blessings. And I especially hope that we might all be able, as we go forward, to walk figuratively and almost literally with our hand in God’s hand and to feel the effect of God’s presence in our lives, doing everything in Jesus’ name and with God’s blessings.

 

Brown, Hugh B., Edwin B. Firmage (ed. An Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown, 2nd ed. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999, 135–40.

“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” by J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

This address was given by President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. of the First Presidency to a summer session of Seminary and Institute Teachers at Brigham Young University. His remarks, delivered 7 July 1954, were published in the Church News, July 31, 1954 and reprinted in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 1979. Although delivered almost sixty years ago, his remarks are very timely to us today, as evidenced by Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s April 2012 address “The Doctrine of Christ”, which cited President Clark’s address multiple times. In this presentation, section headings are added to make reading easier. For your personal enjoyment: “When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to Claim of Scripture?”

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

When Are the Writings and Sermons of Church Leaders entitled to the claim of being scripture?

I assume the scripture behind this question is the declaration of the Lord in a revelation given through Joseph primarily to Orson Hyde, Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and William E. McLellin, who were to engage in missionary work.  After addressing a word first to Orson Hyde, the Lord continued:

And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth­-

And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation. (D&C 68:2-4.)

The very words of the revelation recognize that the Brethren may speak when they are not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” yet only when they do so speak, as so “moved upon,” is what they say Scripture. No exceptions are given to this rule or principle. It is universal in its application.

The question is, how shall we know when the things they have spo­ken were said as they were “moved upon by the Holy Ghost?”

I have given some thought to this question, and the answer thereto so far as I can determine, is: We can tell when the speakers are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” only when we, ourselves, are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” [p.69]

In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.

We might here profitably repeat what Brother Brigham preached.  He said:

Were your faith concentrated upon the proper object, your confidence unshaken, your lives pure and holy, every one fulfilling the duties of his or her calling according to the Priesthood and ca­pacity bestowed upon you, you would be filled with the Holy Ghost, and it would be as impossible for any man to deceive and lead you to destruction as for a feather to remain unconsumed in the midst of intense heat. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 277.)

On another occasion he said:

I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 150.)

So, we might leave this whole discussion here except that there are some collateral matters involved in the problem that it may not be entirely amiss to consider.

From the earliest days of the Church the Lord has given com­mandments and bestowed blessings that involved the operation of the principle behind our main question-the determination of whether our brethren, when they speak, are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

Guidance by the Written Word

"Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written"

“Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written.”

Speaking to the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer (at Fayette) as early as June, 1829, the Lord said to Oliver Cowdery regard­ing the written word:

Behold, I have manifested unto you, by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you have written are true; wherefore you know that they are true. And if you know that they are true, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written; for in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock. (D&C 18:2-4.)

Thus early did the Lord seem to make clear to Oliver Cowdery that he must be guided by the written word; he was not to rely upon his own ideas and concepts.

Two years later (June 7, 1831), the Lord stressed again the impor­tance of following the written word. Speaking to the Prophet, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, John Corrill, John Murdock, Hyrum Smith, and several others, the Lord said:

And let them journey from thence preaching the word by the way, saying [p.70] none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written, and that which is taught them by the Comforter through the prayer of faith.” (D&C 52:9; and see D&C 18:32-33.)

Time and again the Lord told these early Brethren of their duty to spread the Gospel, and in spreading the Gospel, they were to speak with the voice of a trump. (See D&C 19:27; 24:12; 27:16; 28:8, 16; 29:4; 30:5, 9; 32:1; 33:2; 34:5; 35:17, 23; 36:1, 5-6; 37:2; 39:11; 42:6, 11-12; 49:1-4; 52:9-10; 58:46-47, 63-64; 66:5-13; 68:4-5; 71:1-11; 88:77 passim; 93:51; 101:39; 106:2; 107:25-35.)

Not to Teach Sectarianism or Listen to Evil Spirits

"And my servant Leman shall be ordained unto this work, that he may reason with them, not according to that which he has received of them, but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants."

“And my servant Leman shall be ordained unto this work, that he may reason with them, not according to that which he has received of them, but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants.”

In a commandment given to Leman Copley (March, 1831), as he went into missionary work among the Shakers, the Lord gave this significant commandment, which has in it a message for all amongst us who teach sectarianism:

And my servant Leman shall be ordained unto this work, that he may reason with them, not according to that which he has received of them, but according to that which shall be taught him by you my servants; and by so doing I will bless him, other­wise he shall not prosper. (D&C 49:4.)

To a group of elders (in May, 1831), who had been confused by the manifestations of different spirits, the Lord, answering a special request made of him by the Prophet, gave these instructions and com­mandments:

Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question-unto what were ye ordained?

To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.

And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?

Behold, ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.

Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

If it be some other way it is not of God.

Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, under­stand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:13-24.)

This whole revelation (D&C 50) should be read with great care. There is [p.71] much instruction given in it. But I wish particularly to call your attention to verses 21 and 22, just quoted:

Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?

Wherefore, he that preacheth, and he that receiveth, under­stand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

Both are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

Scope of the Lord’s Instructions

"Considering missionary work, this mutual understanding be­tween preacher and investigator is surely that which brings conversion."

“Both are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ Again considering missionary work, this mutual understanding be­tween preacher and investigator is surely that which brings conversion…. It would not be easy to preach false doctrines, undetected, on the first principles of the Gospel.”

I recur to the declaration of the Lord made (November, 1831) through the Prophet Joseph to Orson Hyde, Luke S. Johnson, Lyman E. Johnson, and William E. McLellin, as concerned their duties to preach the Gospel as missionaries. I will re-read the passages pertinent to our discussion:

And, behold, and lo, this is an example unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth-

And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.

Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my ser­vants. (D&C 68:2-5.)

Perhaps we should note that these promises relate, in their terms, to missionary work.

As to missionary work, we will wish to remember that in April of 1829, the Lord, speaking to Joseph and Oliver, said: “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.” (D&C 6:9.)

The same instruction was given to Joseph and Hyrum a little later (May, 1829) in the same words. (D&C 11:9.)

The instruction was repeated a third time (about a year later, March, 1830), now to Martin Harris (through a revelation given to him through the Prophet Joseph). In this revelation, the Lord added, after instructing Martin as to his missionary work which was to be prosecuted diligently and “with all humility, trusting in me, reviling not against revilers”:

And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt de­clare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by bap­tism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost. (D&C 19:30-31.)

This is repeating some essentials of what the Lord had com­manded twice before. Then the Lord said:

[p.72] Behold, this is a great and the last commandment which I shall give unto you concerning this matter; for this shall suffice for thy daily walk, even unto the end of thy life. (D&C 19:32.)

The Lord seems just a little impatient here. It may be the Brethren had been talking about tenets, about which at that time they were scantily informed. The Church had not yet been organized.

Assuming that the revelation regarding the scriptural character and status of the words of the Brethren when “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” referred, at the time, to missionary work, and reminding ourselves of our question-how shall we know when the Brethren so speak?-we should recall the quotation we have just made from an earlier revelation when the Lord said:

Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together”-that is, both are led and inspired by the Com­forter, the Spirit of Truth. (D&C 50:22.)

Both are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

Again considering missionary work, this mutual understanding be­tween preacher and investigator is surely that which brings conversion, one of the prime purposes of missionary work. It would not be easy to preach false doctrines, undetected, on the first principles of the Gospel. So we need say no more about that.

Prophets, Seers and Revelators

"Only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church."

“Only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church.”

However, over the years, a broader interpretation has been given to this passage:

And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation. (D&C 68:4.)

In considering the problem involved here, it should be in mind that some of the General Authorities have had assigned to them a spe­cial calling; they possess a special gift; they are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, which gives them a special spiritual endowment in connection with their teaching of the people. They have the right, the power, and authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. Others of the General Authorities are not given this special spiritual endowment and authority covering their teaching; they have a resulting limitation, and the resulting limitation upon their power and authority in teaching applies to every other officer and member of the Church, for none of them is spiritually endowed as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Furthermore, as just indicated, the Presi­dent of the Church has a further and special spiritual endowment in this respect, for he is the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the whole Church.

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to re­ceive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church. He is God’s sole mouthpiece on earth for The Church of Jesus Christ of [p.73] Latter-day Saints, the only true Church. He alone may declare the mind and will of God to his people. No officer of any other church in the world has this high right and lofty prerogative.

So when any other person, irrespective of who he is, undertakes to do any of these things, you may know he is not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” in so speaking, unless he has special authorization from the President of the Church. (D&C 90:1-4, 9, 12-16; 107:8, 65-66, 91-92; 115:19; 124:125; DHC 2:477; 6:363.)

Thus far it is clear.

Interpretations of Scriptures

Brigham Young in the Tabernacle.

“There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet.”

But there are many places where the scriptures are not too clear, and where different interpretations may be given to them; there are many doctrines, tenets as the Lord called them, that have not been of­ficially defined and declared. It is in the consideration and discussion of these scriptures and doctrines that opportunities arise for differ­ences of views as to meanings and extent. In view of the fundamental principle just announced as to the position of the President of the Church, other bearers of the Priesthood, those with the special spiri­tual endowment and those without it, should be cautious in their ex­pressions about and interpretations of scriptures and doctrines. They must act and teach subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. It would be most unfortunate were this not always strictly observed by the bearers of this special spiritual endow­ment, other than the President. Sometimes in the past they have spo­ken “out of turn,” so to speak. Furthermore, at times even those not members of the General Authorities are said to have been heard to de­clare their own views on various matters concerning which no official view or declaration has been made by the mouthpiece of the Lord, sometimes with an assured certainty that might deceive the unin­formed and unwary. The experience of Pelatiah Brown in the days of the Prophet is an illustration of this general principle. (DHC, vol. V, pp.339-45.)

There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet.

To this point runs a simple story my father told me as a boy, I do not know on what authority, but it illustrates the point. His story was that during the excitement incident to the coming of Johnston’s Army, Brother Brigham preached to the people in a morning meeting a ser­mon vibrant with defiance to the approaching army, and declaring an intention to oppose and drive them back. In the afternoon meeting he arose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning, but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address, the tempo of which was the opposite from the morning talk.

I do not know if this ever happened, but I say it illustrates a princi­ple-that even the President of the Church, himself, may not always be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” when he addresses the people. This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly spec­ulative character) where a subsequent President of the Church and the people themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the an­nouncer was not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

How shall the Church know when these adventurous expeditions of the brethren into these highly speculative principles and doctrines meet the requirements of the statutes that the announcers thereof have been “moved upon by the Holy [p.74] Ghost”? The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest. I refer again to the observations of Brother Brigham on this general question.

Differences of View

"This matter of disagreements over doctrine, and the announce­ment by high authority of incorrect doctrines, is not new."

“This matter of disagreements over doctrine, and the announce­ment by high authority of incorrect doctrines, is not new.”

But this matter of disagreements over doctrine, and the announce­ment by high authority of incorrect doctrines, is not new.

It will be recalled that disagreements among brethren in high places about doctrines made clear appeared in the early days of the Apostolic Church. Indeed, at the Last Supper, “there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest”; this was in the presence of the Savior himself. (Luke 22:24.)

The disciples had earlier had the same dispute when they were at Capernaum. (Mark 9:33; Luke 9:46.) And not long after that, James and John, of their own volition or at the instance of their mother, ap­parently the latter, asked Jesus that one of them might sit on his right hand and the other on his left. (Matthew 20:20ff; Mark 10:35ff.)

This matter of precedence seems to have troubled the disciples.

There were disputes over doctrine. You will recall that Paul and Barnabas had differences (not over doctrine, however), and says the record, “the contention was so sharp between them, that they de­parted asunder one from the other.” (Acts 15:36ff.)

Paul had an apparently unseemly dispute with Peter about cir­cumcision. Paul boasted to the Galatians, “I said unto Peter before them all. . .” (Galatians 2:14).

Peter, replying more or less in kind, wrote: “. . . even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:15-16.)

This same question regarding circumcision became so disturbing to the Church that “the apostles and elders came together for to con­sider of this matter,” in Jerusalem. Paul, Barnabas, and Peter were there and participated in the discussion. The Pharisee disciples stood for circumcision of Gentiles. James delivered the decision against the necessity of circumcising the Gentile converts. (Acts 15: Iff.)

So it was with the Apostolic Church. After the passing of the Apostles, bickerings, contentions, strife, rebellion grew apace and ripened in a few generations into the Great Apostasy. I should like to quote here three paragraphs from a work by Dr. Islay Burns (at one time a Professor of Church History, Free Church College, Glasgow). He writes:

It is the year 101 of the Christian era. The last of the apostles is just dead. The rich evening radiance which in his solitary min­istry had for 30 years lingered on the earth when all his compan­ions were gone, has at last passed away, and the dark night settles down again. The age of inspiration is over-that peerless century which began with the birth of Christ, and closed with the death of John-and the course of the ages descends once more to the ordi­nary level of common time.

It was with the Church now as with the disciples at Bethany, when the last gleam of the Savior’s ascending train had passed from their sight, and they [p.75] turned their faces, reluctant and sad, to the dark world again. The termination of the age of inspiration was in truth the very complement and consummation of the ascension of the Lord. The sun can then only be said to have fairly set, when his departing glory has died away from the horizon, and the chill stars shine out sharp and clear on the dun and naked sky.

That time has now fully come. The last gleam of inspired wis­dom and truth vanished from the earth with the beloved apostle’s gentle farewell, and we pass at once across the mysterious line which separates the sacred from the secular annals of the world ­the history of the apostolic age from the history of the Christian Church. (Islay Burns, The First Three Christian Centuries [London: T. Nelson and Sons, 1884], p. 49.)

So spoke Burns.

This tragic sunset rapidly deepened into twilight of not too long life, and then came the spiritual darkness of an Apostate night. For the better part of two millenniums men groped about, spiritually stum­bling one over the other, vainly seeking even a spark of spiritual light, until, on that beautiful spring morning, a century and a third ago, a pil­lar of light above the brightness of the noonday sun, gradually fell from the heavens till it enveloped a young boy in the woods praying mightily for spiritual light. As he looked up he saw two persons standing in the light above him, the Father and the Son. The morning of the Dispen­sation of the Fullness of Times had come, breaking the darkness of the long generations of spiritual night. As in the creation, light was to re­place darkness, day was to follow night.

The Church was organized, named by direct command of the Lord, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

You know its history-the trials, tribulations, hardships, persecu­tions, mobbings, murders, and final expulsion of its members into the western wilderness. You know the loyalty to death itself of some; the disloyalty almost to the point of murder of others. You know the dis­sensions, the bickerings, the false witnessing, the disputes, the jeal­ousies, the ambitions, the treachery, that tore at the very vitals of the young Church. You know the apostasies, the excommunications of men in the very highest places, because they did not recognize when men in high places were not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” in their teachings. These malcontents followed those who had not the guid­ance of the Holy Ghost. Finally, the machinations of evil men, inside and outside the Church, brought Joseph and Hyrum to a martyr’s death. But God’s work moved on.

How Revelation and Inspiration Are Given

"Read the whole story [of Naaman] again; it is interesting and has valuable lessons. One lesson is—We do not tell the Lord how to do things."

“Read the whole story [of Naaman] again; it is interesting and has valuable lessons. One lesson is—We do not tell the Lord how to do things.”

Preliminary to a little further consideration of the principle in­volved in being “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” we might call atten­tion to the difficulties some have in conceiving how revelation comes, particularly its physiological and psychological characteristics. Some have very fixed and definite ideas on these matters and set up stan­dards by which they test the genuineness or non-genuineness of reve­lations which Church members generally and the Church itself accept as revelations.

On that point I would like to call your attention to the experience of Naaman the leper, captain of the host of the King of Syria. A cap­tive Jewish maiden, servant in the house of Naaman, told Naaman’s wife there was a prophet in Samaria who could cure Naaman’s leprosy. Hearing of this report, the Syrian King [p.76] ordered Naaman to go to Samaria, and gave him a letter to be delivered to the King of Israel. Naaman went to Samaria with presents, to the great distress and fear of Jehoram, who feared a trick.

Elisha learning the situation and the King’s distress, had Naaman sent to him. When Naaman reached Elisha’s home, Elisha did not go to see Naaman, but sent a servant to tell him to wash seven times in the waters of Jordan and he would be healed.

“Naaman was wroth,” says the record, and went away, saying he thought Elisha “will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and re­cover the leper.” Humiliated, for he carried a royal commission, Naa­man “turned and went away in a rage.” But his servants pointed out that if Elisha had asked him to do some great thing, he would have done it, then why not do the simple thing of washing in the Jordan. Mollified at least, perhaps half believing, he went and bathed seven times in the waters of the Jordan, “and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (2 Kings 5:1ff.)

Read the whole story again; it is interesting and has valuable lessons. One lesson is—We do not tell the Lord how to do things. He frames his own plans, draws his own blueprints, shapes his own course, conceives his own strategy, moves and acts as in his infinite knowledge and wisdom he determines. When lack-faiths and doubters and skeptics begin to map out the plans, methods, and procedures they would demand that God follow, they would do well to remember God’s power, wisdom, knowledge, and authority.

Before noting a few ways in which the inspiration of the Lord and the revelations of his mind and will have come to men, I want to refer to one aspect of the First Vision, that part (on which is hung a charge of epilepsy to discredit and destroy Joseph’s inspiration and mission) which relates that as he came out of the vision he found himself lying on his back, looking up into heaven, without strength, though he soon recovered. You might find it interesting to compare this with the ac­count of the condition of Moses after his great theophany (Moses 1:9-10), and of Daniel (Daniel 8:27), also of the incidents connected with the transfiguration on the mount. (Matthew 17:l£f.; Mark 9:l£f.; Luke 9:28ff.)

I wish to make here one observation about the First Vision.

No man or woman is a true member of the Church who does not fully accept the First Vision, just as no man is a Christian who does not accept, first, the Fall of Adam, and second, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Any titular Church member who does not accept the First Vision but who continues to pose as a Church member, lacks not only moral courage but intellectual integrity and honor if he does not avow himself an apostate and discontinue going about the Church, and among the youth particularly, as a Churchman, teaching not only lack-faith but faith-destroying doctrines. He is a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Language of a Revelation

"There are those who insist that unless the Prophet of the Lord de­clares, "Thus saith the Lord," the message may not be taken as a reve­lation. This is a false testing standard."

“There are those who insist that unless the Prophet of the Lord de­clares, “Thus saith the Lord,” the message may not be taken as a reve­lation. This is a false testing standard.”

There are those who insist that unless the Prophet of the Lord de­clares, “Thus saith the Lord,” the message may not be taken as a reve­lation. This is a false testing standard. For while many of our modern revelations as contained in the Doctrine and Covenants do contain these words, there are many that do not. Nor is it necessary that an ac­tual voice be heard in order that a message from our Heavenly Father shall be a true revelation, as shown by revelations given in [p.77] former dis­pensations, as well as in our own.

For example: Enos records that while struggling in prayer for for­giveness of his sins, first “there came a voice unto me, saying: . . .” then, as he continued his struggling in the spirit, he declares, “the voice of the Lord came into my mind again saying. . .” It is not clear whether the voice was the same on both occasions, or a real voice first and then a voice in the mind. But it does not matter, the message came from the Lord each time. (Enos 1:5, 10.)

In that great revelation, designated by the Prophet as the Olive Leaf, the opening sentence is, “Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you who have assembled yourselves together to receive his will concerning you…” yet further in the revelation, the Lord says:

Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness – in the wilderness, because you cannot see him – my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.” (D&C 88:1, 66.)

In that glorious vision and revelation recorded as Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Prophet Joseph records:

By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God…

And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.

And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fullness.

And later, telling of the works of Lucifer and the sufferings of those upon whom he made war and overcame, the record says:

…thus came the voice of the Lord unto us:

Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof …and then are overcome by Satan. (D&C 76:12, 19-20, 30-31.)

In another revelation, the record reads:

Verily I say unto you my friends, I speak unto you with my voice, even the voice of my spirit. (D&C 97:1.)

Very early in Church History (April, 1829), giving assurance to Oliver Cowdery, the Lord said:

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.  Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. (D&C 8:2-3.)

A little later, the Lord gave Oliver the sign of the burning in his bosom when [p.78] his translations were right, and a stupor of thought when the translations were wrong. (D&C 9:8-9.)

On other occasions, in ancient times and in modern days, the records leave no question but that a real voice was heard, as when the Lord spoke, time and again, to the boy Samuel, a servant to the High Priest Eli, from whose family the Lord took the high office belonging to it, because of the wickedness of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. (1 Samuel 3:1ff.)

And in modern days (April 3, 1836), in the great vision of Joseph and Oliver in the Temple at Kirtland, the record reads:

The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.

We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.

His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great wa­ters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:

I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father. (D&C 110:1-4.)

Joseph’s Work in Revelation and Vision

"I would like to read to you descrip­tions of how the Prophet received revelations, and how he looked on such occasions."

“I had before seen him in a vision, and now saw while he was talking his countenance change to white; not the deadly white of bloodless face, but a living brilliant white. He seemed absorbed in gazing at something at a great distance.”

To close this phase of our talk, I would like to read to you descrip­tions of how the Prophet received revelations, and how he looked on such occasions. You are probably all familiar with the record.

Elder Parley P. Pratt (speaking of the revelation now printed as Section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants, given in May, 1831) de­scribes how the Prophet worked when receiving revelations. He says:

After we had joined in prayer in his translating room, he dic­tated in our presence the following revelation:-(Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each, sufficiently long for it to be recorded, by an ordinary writer, in long hand.

This was the manner in which all his written revelations were dictated and written. There was never any hesitation, reviewing, or reading back, in order to keep the run of the subject; neither did any of these communications undergo revisions, interlinings, or corrections. As he dictated them so they stood, so far as I have witnessed; and I was present to witness the dictation of several communications of several pages each. . . .) (Autobiography of Par­ley Parker Pratt, Parley P. Pratt (fils), ed., Salt Lake City, Deseret Book Company, 1938, p. 62.)

It seems clear that on this occasion there was no audible voice, though the opening sentence of the revelation reads: “Hearken unto me, saith the Lord your God. . .”

However, President B. H. Roberts points out that when some of the early revelations were published in the Book of Commandments in 1833, they “were revised by the Prophet himself in the way of correct­ing errors made by the scribes and publishers; and some additional clauses were inserted to throw increased light upon the subjects treated in the revelations, and paragraphs added, to make the princi­ples for instructions apply to officers not in the Church at the time some of [p.79] the earlier revelations were given. The addition of verses 65, 66, and 67 in sec. XX of the Doctrine and Covenants is an example.” (DHC, vol. 1, p. 173, note.)

At Montrose, Iowa, in August, 1842 (there is some uncertainty as to the exact date), the Prophet, attending a Masonic ceremony, prophesied that the Saints would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, and declared events incident to the move. Brother Anson Call describes this scene as quoted in his biography by Tullidge, as follows:

Joseph, as he was tasting the cold water, warned the brethren not to be too free with it. With the tumbler still in his hand he prophesied that the Saints would yet go to the Rocky Mountains; and, said he, this water tastes much like that of the crystal streams that are running from the snow-capped mountains. We will let Mr. Call describe this prophetic scene:

I had before seen him in a vision, and now saw while he was talking his countenance change to white; not the deadly white of bloodless face, but a living brilliant white. He seemed absorbed in gazing at something at a great distance, and said: “I am gazing upon the valleys of those mountains.” This was followed by a vivid description of the scenery of these mountains, as I have since be­come acquainted with it. Pointing to Shadrach Roundy and oth­ers, he said: “There are some men here who shall do a great work in that land.” Pointing to me, he said, “There is Anson, he shall go and shall assist in building up cities from one end of the country to the other, and you, rather extending the idea to all those he had spoken of, shall perform as great a work as has been done by man, so that the nations of the earth shall be astonished, and many of them will be gathered in that land and assist in building cities and temples, and Israel shall be made to rejoice.”

It is impossible to represent in words this scene which is still vivid in my mind, of the grandeur of Joseph’s appearance, his beautiful descriptions of this land, and his wonderful prophetic ut­terances as they emanated from the glorious inspirations that overshadowed him. There was a force and power in his exclama­tions of which the following is but a faint echo: “Oh the beauty of those snow-capped mountains! The cool refreshing streams that are running down through those mountain gorges!” Then gazing in another direction, as if there was a change of locality: “Oh the scenes that this people will pass through! The dead that will lay be­tween here and there.” Then turning in another direction as if the scene had again changed: “Oh the apostasy that will take place before my brethren reach that land!” “But,” he continued, “The priesthood shall prevail over its enemies, triumph over the devil and be established upon the earth, never more to be thrown down!” He then charged us with great force and power, to be faithful to those things that had been and should be committed to our charge, with the promise of all the blessings that the Priest­hood could bestow. “Remember these things and treasure them up. Amen.” (Tullidge’s Histories, vol. I. History of Northern Utah, and Southern Idaho.-Biographical Supplement, p. 271 et seq.) (DHC, vol. V, p. 86, note.)

Brother Pratt affirms he had frequently witnessed the Prophet re­ceiving revelations always in the way he described, and Brother Call says he had before seen the Prophet in a vision.

Stirring records of a glorious event!

One can partly understand how the early Saints clung to Joseph and why the early brethren followed and protected him even to death itself. Faith and knowledge and love rose to loftiest heights in those early days of tribulation and [p.80] martyrdom, and jealousy and hate and the spirit of murder, inspired by Satan, sank to the depths of lowest de­gree, working for the defeat of God’s work.

Supremely great is the calling of a Prophet of God to declare the mind and the will of God touching the trials, the vicissitudes, the grievous persecutions that follow the righteous of the children of men, and then to proclaim the glories of the infinite goodness of God, his mercy and love, his forgiveness, his unbounded helpfulness, his divine purposes, his final destiny of man.

Yet we must not forget that prophets are mortal men, with men’s infirmities.

Asked if a prophet was always a prophet, Brother Joseph quickly affirmed that “a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” (DHC, vol. V, p. 265.)

He pointed out that James declared “that Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, yet he had such power with God, that He, in answer to his prayers, shut the heavens that they gave no rain for the space of three years and six months; and again, in answer to his prayer, the heavens gave forth rain, and the earth gave forth fruit.” (James 5:17-18; DHC, vol. II, p. 302.)

On another occasion Joseph quoted the saying of John that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19: 10) and de­clared:

. . . if I profess to be a witness or teacher, and have not the spirit of prophecy, which is the testimony of Jesus, I must be a false witness; but if I be a true teacher and witness, I must possess the spirit of prophecy, and that constitutes a prophet.” (DHC, vol. V, pp. 215-16.)

Summary Remarks

The First Presidency in 1959, with President J. Reuben Clark in the middle.

“God grant us the power so to live that always we may be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” to the end that we may always detect false teachings and so be preserved in the faith that shall lead us into im­mortality and eternal life.”

There is not time to say more on this occasion.

I have tried to suggest the meaning of the scripture which says that what the Priesthood says when “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” is itself scripture. I have tried to indicate my own thoughts as to some of the limitations which attend the exercise of this principle, both as to those who are entitled to have their words taken as scripture, and also as to the doctrines that might fall from the lips of those not possessing the special gift and endowment. I have shown that even the President of the Church has not always spoken under the direction of the Holy Ghost, for a prophet is not always a prophet. I noted that the Apostles of the Primitive Church had their differences, that in our own Church, leaders have differed in view from the first.

I have observed that the Lord has his own ways of communicating his mind and will to his prophets, uninfluenced by the thoughts or views of men as to his proper procedure; that sometimes he evidently speaks with an audible voice, but that at other times he speaks inaudi­bly to the ear but clearly to the mind of the prophet. I quoted how the Prophet Joseph worked as he received revelations and how his counte­nance changed in appearance at such times. I have tried to explain briefly how, as Joseph said, a prophet is not always a prophet, but is a prophet only when acting as such, and that this means that not always may the words of a prophet be taken as a prophecy or revelation, but only when he, too, is speaking as “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

I repeat here some of the elemental rules that, as to certain mat­ters, will enable us always to know when others than the Presiding High Priest, the Prophet, Seer [p.81] and Revelator, the President of the Church, will not be speaking as “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

When anyone except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim a revelation from God for the guidance of the Church, we may know he is not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”

When anyone except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim that any scripture of the Church has been modified, changed, or abrogated, we may know he is not “moved ‘upon by the Holy Ghost,” unless he is acting under the direct authority and direc­tion of the President.

When anyone except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim a new doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” unless he is acting under the direct authority and direction of the President.

When anyone except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim that any doctrine of the Church has been modified, changed, or abrogated, we may know that he is not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.

When any man except the President of the Church undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” unless he is acting under the di­rection and by the authority of the President.

Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.

God grant us the power so to live that always we may be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” to the end that we may always detect false teachings and so be preserved in the faith that shall lead us into im­mortality and eternal life, I humbly pray, in the name of him through whom, only, we approach the Father. Even so. Amen.

Clark, J. Reuben. “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?,” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 12, No. 2, 68-81.