Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch. 14: The Holy Ghost

As reflected in the updated “about” section, this blog has changed its purpose once again. From now on, the main focus will be on presenting resources for teaching from the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals in Elders’ Quorum and Relief Societies based on what I am putting together to teach on the second Sundays in my married student LDS ward.

The 2014 manual

The 2014 manual

The manuals are both simple and difficult to teach from, as reflected by their structure and purpose. Their primary purpose is to function as teaching manuals two times a month for one year (with the exceptions of Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Smith), consisting of approximately 24 chapters, with each chapter focusing in on a specific idea, principle, or doctrine emphasized or taught by the president of the Church in question, filtered by the Church’s current institutional thoughts on the subject. Questions and teaching tips are suggested at the close of each chapter to help instructors in teaching. Difficulties arise, however, from the fact that the Church has to address an international audience from many age groups and situations in life; from the fact that the manuals are also meant to provide long-term, readily-available doctrinal quote books to members of the Church; and that, by their natures, the books are constrained to one man for quotes to teach from. Thus, adaptation is necessary to bring the text home to an individual quorum of Relief Society. To help with this, I hope to provide a view of each chapter that brings it together in a more meaningful way, resources for linking the class to the historical presidents of the Church, and a few quotes and outside resources to add greater emphasis and interest to the manual’s text.

Although I will be mostly teaching from the odd numbered lessons in the texts, ironically my first post will focus on a few comments (mostly focusing on analogies and history) about Chapter 14 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, which focuses on “The Gift of the Holy Ghost.”

"And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them" Acts 19:6).

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them” Acts 19:6).

While discussing section 1, “The mission of the Holy Ghost is to bear witness of the Father and the Son and of all truth,” a member of my quorum quoted from D&C 130:22-23, which reads as follows:

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.

A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.

The brother who cited this section stated, as best as I can remember, that the Holy Ghost could not be everywhere if he had a body, and especially could not dwell within us if such was the case. To me, it felt like the brother was describing the Holy Ghost in the mode of thought most prominent in the early Church, when the Holy Ghost was something “spread,” “filled,” “poured,” or “bestowed” upon the righteous—a fluid spiritual essence or ether that filled the immensity of space and carried out the work of God.[1] The 1834 Lectures on Faith discussed the Holy Ghost in this mode, stating that “There are two personages who constitute the great matchless, governing and supreme power over all things . . . The Father and the Son—the Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son . . . a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto a man . . . possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit.”[2] In this sense, the Holy Ghost was the “mind” or common essence, the “Spirit of God” and the “Light of Christ,” emanating from the Father and Son. This approach allowed Mormonism to hold onto the traditional concepts of an omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal deity while also making room for Gods that were embodied, and thus constrained in space and time.
This mode of thought was predominant (though not the only way of thinking) in Mormon theology during the 1800s and early 1900s. For example, President Brigham Young taught, “The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Lord, and issues forth from Himself, and may properly be called God’s minister to execute His will in immensity; being called to govern by His influence and power; but He is not a person of tabernacle as we are and as our Father in Heaven and Jesus are.”[3] Likewise, Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote that, “All space is filled with a subtle, though material substance of wonderful properties, by which all natural phenomena are controlled. This substance is known as the Holy Spirit.”[4]  A third example from President Charles W. Penrose: “It is by His Holy Spirit, which permeates all things, and is the life and light of all things, that Deity is everywhere present. * * By that agency God sees and knows and governs all things.”[5]
Since that time, however, a different idea has become the predominant mode of thought in Mormonism. One of the best expositions of this modern approach is included in Elder LeGrand Richards’s famous work A Marvelous Work and a Wonder: “The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit in the form of a man (see 1 Nephi 11:11) and hence confined in his personage to a limited space.” Elder Richards continues, comparing the Holy Ghost to the Sun—His influence can be felt, even when he is thousands of miles away, even though His personage is not present in the room itself, like a beam of sunlight through a window.[6] In this mode of thought, the Light or Spirit of Christ is often a separate and distinct spiritual essence that takes up the omnipresent, incorporeal aspect of the Godhead and functions as the medium that the Holy Ghost acts through. For example, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that,

President Joseph F. Smith has expressed it thus: “The Holy Ghost as a personage of Spirit can no more be omnipresent in person than can the Father or the Son, but by his intelligence, his knowledge, his power and influence, over and through the laws of nature, he is and can be omnipresent throughout all the works of God.” Thus when it becomes necessary to speak to us, he is able to do so by acting through the other Spirit, that is, through the Light of Christ.[7]

Although Joseph Smith spoke of the Holy Spirit in more traditional terms during the Kirtland era, by the Nauvoo era, he had switched to the Holy Ghost being a person. In early 1841, he discussed the Godhead with a small group of brethren: “Joseph said Concerning the Godhead it was Not as many imagined—three Heads & but one body, he said the three were separate bodys—God the first & Jesus the Mediator the 2d & the Holy Ghost.”[8] Here the Holy Ghost is described as having a body, distinct and separate from the other members of the Godhead. A month later, he taught the same group that, “The Son Had a Tabernicle & so had the father But the Holly Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle.”[9] This latter reference—like the passage quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants—is not entirely clear to modern readers, hinging on the use of the word personage. Is a personage an anthropomorphic being or any sort of being? If the latter, then the Holy Spirit could be a fluid essence that fills the immensity of space and yet also dwell in our hearts as the D&C reference suggests. If the former be true, then the Holy Ghost would be confined to a certain portion of space and could not simultaneously dwell, literally, in many people’s hearts. In January 1843, Joseph was more explicit about this nature when he discoursed on the sign of the dove at Christ’s baptism and taught that, “Holy Ghost is a personage in the form of a personage—does not confine itself to form of a dove.”[10]

Returning to the Doctrine and Covenants reference, it is interesting to note that the current text does not reflect the original manuscript of the record. The April 1843 report of the discourse has it that: “The Father has a body of flesh & bones as tangible as mans the Son also, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.—and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart he may receive the gift of the holy Ghost. it may descend upon him but not to tarry with him.”[11] Here the Holy Ghost’s ability to dwell in hearts is reversed entirely from the edition of the discourse that was published in the Doctrine and Covenants—rather than “a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” it states “a personage of spirit.—and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart.” This is more consistent with how we view the Holy Ghost today, but it apparently was not so during the 1850s. Lyndon W. Cook and Andrew Ehat wrote that:

Neither the William Clayton Diary, the Joseph Smith Diary here quoted, nor the draft Manuscript History of the Church entry for this date, implies the phrasing of D&C 130:22: “Were it not so [that the Holy Ghost is a spirit], the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” Originally the wording in the Manuscript History of the Church entry for this date was the same as in the original draft, but in the 1850s the Church historians reworded it to read the way it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants.[12]

There could be a few reasons for the change—as mentioned above, more most of the 1800s, the Brethren relied on the Kirtland teachings and writings of Joseph Smith, at least as far as the Holy Ghost goes, making the idea of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts more in line to how they understood it at the time. Also, in the manuscript, immediately before the section in question, the report states that Joseph, “again reverted to Elders Hyde mistake. &c.”[13] If not read carefully, the statement about the Holy Ghost as it stood in the original could be seen as a reiteration of what Hyde had said that was wrong. If this was the case, it is conceivable that when George A. Smith and Thomas Bullock were compiling the record and cut out the reference to Elder Hyde, they flipped the meaning to reflect what Joseph was trying to get at, in their eyes. Such a reading, however, would be wrong, since Orson Hyde’s mistake was actually that he had taught that, “It is our privilege to have the father & son dwelling in our hearts.” Joseph’s initial addressing of the idea was to say that, “the appearing of the father and of the Son in that verse is a personal appearance.—to say that the father and the Son dwell in a mans heart is an old Sectarian notion. and is not correct.”[14] When he spoke on the Godhead later, the Prophet was returning to this theme. It is interesting to me that even after the mainstream Mormon conception of the Holy Ghost shifted to match Joseph’s Nauvoo era views of the Holy Ghost, and even after the book Words of Joseph Smith was published with the original text and footnote used above that the section of the Doctrine and Covenants was not revised—even in the 2013 edition of the scriptures. It is conceivable that such a change will happen in the future with the standard disclaimer that, “these changes have been made to bring the material into conformity with the most accurate historical information.” For more reading on the development of Mormon thought on the Holy Ghost, click here.

To return to the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, in discussing sections 2 & 3 (“The Holy Ghost manifests the truth to honest people everywhere,” and “Following baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost is given by the laying on of hands”) I was reminded of an analogy given by President Smith’s grandson, Joseph Fielding McConkie at a BYU speech. As published in the Ensign:

We frequently speak of our right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Perhaps an analogy, one my father [Bruce R. McConkie] taught me, will help in distinguishing between receiving a revelation from the Holy Ghost and having the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Imagine yourself traveling in the dark of night through rugged and difficult terrain, seeking a place of safety where you will be reunited with your family. Let us also suppose that a flash of lightning momentarily marks the path of safety before you. This brief flash of light represents a manifestation through the Holy Ghost.

If you then follow the path it marked out, it will lead you to the waters of baptism and to confirmation as a member of the Church. The authority who confirms you will say, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” meaning the gift of the Holy Ghost. The light by which you now walk is the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It is the light of the gospel—or, for some, the gospel in a new light. In either case, it enables you to see that which you could not see before. It now becomes your privilege to walk, as it were, by the light of day. The light is constant, and, in most instances, the path you are called on to travel is clearly marked. When it is not, you are entitled to the visions, impressions, or prodding necessary to assure your arrival at the place of safety.[15]

Lightning

In discussing section 5 & 6 (“The companionship of the Holy Ghost is available only to those who prepare themselves to receive it,” and, “As we remain faithful, the Holy Ghost will give us revelations to lead and direct us throughout our lives”) I was reminded of an analogy I heard in Sunday School once upon a time. In stage acting, there are at least two types of spotlights—fixed and moving. The moving spotlight follows the actor, allowing free movement across the stage. The fixed one, however, focuses on a specific spot, and for cases where that is the lighting being used, the actor needs to learn to feel when the light is on him or her and to stay in the light. The Holy Ghost is, most often, like the fixed spotlight—He has certain parameters that we must live within to have His light in our lives, and we must learn to feel when that light is upon us. If we stray, we need to find our way back into that light, etc.

Anyway, since I did not prepare this lesson, it wasn’t as in-depth as future analyses and suggestions should be, but hopefully it is useful.

[1] Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, p.90-p.91

The next stage in Mormon concepts of a Holy Ghost

[2] Joseph Smith, Jr., Lectures on Faith (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2010), 55-56

[3] JD 1:50.

[4] Widtsoe, John Andreas (2011-03-30). Joseph Smith as Scientist A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy (Kindle Locations 157-159).  . Kindle Edition

[5] Cited in Widtsoe, John Andreas (2011-03-30). Joseph Smith as Scientist A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy (Kindle Locations 262-264).  . Kindle Edition.

[6] LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Missionary Reference Library edition (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 117.

[7] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954), 1:40.

[8] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 1481-1483). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[9] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 1512-1513). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[10] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 2996-2997). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[11] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3271-3273). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[12] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3281-3284). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[13] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Location 3271). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[14] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3215-3222). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[15] Joseph Fielding McConkie, “Finding Answers,” Ensign February 2011.

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