Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 12: Seek the Spirit in All that You Do

Chapter Twelve of the Ezra Taft Benson manual focuses on following the Holy Ghost. The Life section focuses on Ezra Taft Benson’s insistence that the Church be run in accord with the Holy Ghost, with a specific example when he called a stake president. Section one focuses on keeping the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to deal with living in the world today. Section two focuses on recognizing the Holy Ghost through our feelings. Section three focuses on obtaining the Spirit through prayer and fasting, like Enos in the Book of Mormon. Section four focuses on how reading, studying, and pondering on the scriptures invites the Holy Ghost into our lives and brings us closer to God. Section five deals with the need for obedience and purity in order to have the companionship of the Spirit.

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

The Spirit of God (#2)

Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee (#123)

Let the Holy Spirit Guide (#143)

Search, Ponder, and Pray (Children’s Songbook #109)

Videos

Henry B. Eyring: Continuing Revelation

Robert D. Hales: The Lord Speaks through the Scriptures

Boyd K. Packer: Enemy Territory

James E. Faust: Voice of the Spirit

David A. Bednar: Patterns of Light: Part one, Part two, Part three

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus About Being Born Again

Object Lessons

Have the class listen to the voices of apostles and prophets and try to guess whose voices they are. Then play some voices of members of their family. Talk about how it is much easier to recognize a voice when you are familiar with it. We need to spend time in the scriptures, in prayer, and practicing listening to the Spirit in order to recognize the voice of the Lord through the Holy Ghost.

Show a laptop computer and explain that it has a special device inside that allows it to pick up an Internet signal. If the computer is in range of the signal it has the ability to receive information from all over the world. As baptized members of the Church, we have also been given a special device: the Holy Ghost. When we are in spiritual range, we can receive information from heaven. Talk about some of the things that help us stay in range, as well as those things that keep us from it.[1]

Wrap yourself with a quilt, and refer to it as a comforter. Explain that people call it a comforter because it is soft and warm and can make us feel very comfortable. State that the Comforter is also another name for the Holy Ghost. Ask why the Holy Ghost would be called a comforter, or indicate that the Holy Ghost can help us feel comfortable when we listen to his promptings and allow his influence to surround our lives.[2]

Further Reading

David A. Bednar: The Spirit of Revelation

Von G. Keetch: Start Moving

Vern G Swanson: The Development of the Concept of a Holy Ghost in Mormon Theology

Joseph Fielding McConkie: Finding Answers

Quotes

Bruce R. McConkie: Men ought—above all things in this world—to seek for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing as important as having the companionship of the Holy Ghost. . . . There is no price too high, no labor too onerous, no struggle too severe, no sacrifice too great, if out of it all we receive and enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost.[3]

Bruce R. McConkie

Bruce R. McConkie

Joseph Fielding McConkie: 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.[4]

Joseph Fielding McConkie

Joseph Fielding McConkie

David A. Bednar: These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts.[5]

David A. Bednar

David A. Bednar

Robert D. Hales: When we want to speak to God, we pray. And when we want Him to speak to us, we search the scriptures; for His words are spoken through His prophets. He will then teach us as we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.[6]

Robert D. Hales

Robert D. Hales

B. H. Roberts: Through water baptism is obtained a remission of past sins; but even after the sins of the past are forgiven, the one so pardoned will doubtless feel the force of sinful habits bearing heavily upon him. He who has been guilty of habitual untruthfulness, will at times find himself inclined, perhaps, to yield to that habit. He who has stolen may be sorely tempted, when opportunity arises, to steal again. While he who has indulged in licentious practices may again find himself disposed to give way to the seductive influence of the siren. So with drunkenness, malice, envy, covetousness, hatred, anger, and, in short, all the evil dispositions that flesh is heir to.

There is an absolute necessity for some additional sanctifying grace that will strengthen poor human nature, not only to enable it to resist temptation, but also to root out from the heart concupiscence—the blind tendency or inclination to evil. The heart must be purified, every passion, every propensity made submissive to the will, and the will of man brought into subjection to the will of God.

Man’s natural powers are unequal to this task; so, I believe, all will testify who have made the experiment. Mankind stand in some need of a strength superior to any they possess of themselves, to accomplish this work of rendering pure our fallen nature. Such strength, such power, such a sanctifying grace is conferred on man in being born of the Spirit—in receiving the Holy Ghost. Such, in the main, is its office, its work.[7]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

Come Unto Christ

Bringing Christ into this lesson isn’t too hard. One could reference the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus or the promise of the Holy Ghost that was fulfilled at Pentecost in the book of Acts to get into the New Testament. One could also speak of the Holy Ghost witnessing of Christ and leading us in a Christ-like (Christian) life, the latter of which is referenced in B. H. Roberts’s quote cited above. One could speak of the Atonement purifying us and allowing us to feel the Holy Ghost, since the companionship of the Holy Ghost is contingent upon purity and worthiness. Finally, one could refer to the sacramental prayers and the connection between taking upon ourselves the name of Christ, always remembering Him, and to keep the commandments of Christ has to having the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

A Deeper Look

One time in Church, while discussion the nature of the Holy Ghost, a member of my class 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 rather than a human being without a body.[8] 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.”[9] 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.

In the Kirtland era of Church History, the Holy Ghost was spoken of as a non-personage

In the Kirtland era of Church History, the Holy Ghost was spoken of as a non-personage

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.”[10] 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.”[11]  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.”[12]
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.[13] 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.[14]

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.”[15] 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.”[16] 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 being that fills the immensity of space and yet also dwell in our hearts as the D&C reference suggests. If the former is 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.”[17]

By the Nauvoo Era, Joseph Smith spoke more clearly as a personage without a physical body

By the Nauvoo Era, Joseph Smith spoke more clearly as a personage without a physical body

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.”[18] 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 observed 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.[19]

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.”[20] 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 they though Joseph was trying to get at. 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 initially addressed that idea by saying 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.”[21] When he spoke on the Godhead later, the Prophet was returning to this same 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.” Time will tell if such will be, though.[22]

Happy Teaching!

Happy Teaching!

[1] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 1663-1667). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Beth Lefgren, Jennifer Jackson, Power Tools for Teaching: Ideas for Creative Lessons (SLC: Bookcraft, 1988), 34.

[3] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (SLC: Deseret Book, 1985), 253

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

[5] David A. Bednar, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” CR, October 2010, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/receive-the-holy-ghost?lang=eng.

[6] Robert D. Hales, “Holy Scriptures, The Power of God Unto Our Salvation,” CR, October 2006. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/holy-scriptures-the-power-of-god-unto-our-salvation?lang=eng

[7] B. H. Roberts, The Gospel: An Exposition of its first principles; and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1901), 179-180.

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

The next stage in Mormon concepts of a Holy Ghost

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

[10] JD 1:50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Note that this section was taken from a blog post on this site a year ago, but since it was not widely read, I don’t feel bad about reusing it.

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One thought on “Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 12: Seek the Spirit in All that You Do

  1. Pingback: Chapter 12: “Seek the Spirit in All You Do” | Teachings of Presidents of the Church

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