Joseph Smith quotations on spiritual gifts, and how they relate to my own previous posts


A bit more from Joseph, and how it relates to my larger D&C 42 project.

My project is to understand D&C 42:11-14, but especially D&C 42:14. I have blogged lots and lots of thoughts on it, and have especially looked to D&C 50 as a major source of clarification and insight into that verse.

Also, I have read a great deal of a book by Mark Lyman Staker, where he studies and thoroughly documents the situation in which the Kirtland revelations were given. (Great book, highly highly recommend it.)

After reading Staker’s book on Kirtland, I can appreciate this statement, which he made in 1842: (I’ve added my own words in italics)

“Various and conflicting are the opinions of men in regard to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Some people have been in the habit of calling every supernatural manifestation the effects of the Spirit of God, [this was certainly going on in Kirtland!] whilst there are others that think there is no manifestation connected with it at all; and that it is nothing but a mere impulse of the mind, or an inward feeling, impression, or secret testimony or evidence, which men possess, and that there is no such a thing as an outward manifestation.”

“There are several gifts mentioned here, yet which of them all could be known by an observer at the imposition of hands? [This is a good point, and he makes a good case as to why people were so overly excited about “barking” etc.] The word of wisdom, and the word of knowledge, are as much gifts as any other, yet if a person possessed both of these gifts, or received them by the imposition of hands, who would know it? [Not visible, and not sought after so much…] Another might receive the gift of faith, and they [I assume he means the observer, not the receiver] would be as ignorant of it. Or suppose a man had the gift of healing or power to work miracles, that would not then be known; it would require time and circumstances to call these gifts into operation. [Worked out over time, interesting. Saying these signs follow them that believe does not necessarily imply any immediate effects.] Suppose a man had the discerning of spirits, who would be the wiser for it? Or if he had the interpretation of tongues, unless someone spoke in an unknown tongue, he of course would have to be silent; there are only two gifts that could be made visible—the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy. [Therefore:] These are things that are the most talked about, and yet if a person spoke in an unknown tongue, according to Paul’s testimony, he would be a barbarian to those present [see 1 Corinthians 14:11]. They would say that it was gibberish; and if he prophesied they would call it nonsense. The gift of tongues is the smallest gift perhaps of the whole, and yet it is one that is the most sought after.”

Ah, fantastic analysis. The reason people in early 1800’s were so eager to have these two types of spiritual manifestations was because over the course of human history, only those two have been visible and in the end, it seems it was only those two that ended up in the category of “spiritual gifts.”

As he says in the beginning of what I’ve copied over here, “Some people have been in the habit of calling every supernatural manifestation the effects of the Spirit of God-” I think the logic flows from the other point on prophecy and tongues: since those two gifts were the outward and visible ones, they got written of more, talked of more, and sought after more, to the point where they alone almost defined what a “spiritual manifestation” was. That would lead to “manifestation” being equated with an outward sign. The next step was to consider any unusual, outward sign a manifestation of the spirit. Thus,”Some people have been in the habit of calling every supernatural manifestation the effects of the Spirit of God.”

This does help me see the situation in Kirtland better, and I am better able to approach D&C 42, 46, and 50 in this light. See also this from Joseph, which reminds me of D&C 46 and 50:

“There always did, in every age, seem to be a lack of intelligence pertaining to this subject. Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age, and almost amongst all people. … All have their spirits, all have a supernatural agency, and all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery? ‘Try the spirits,’ says John [1 John 4:1], but who is to do it? The learned, the eloquent, the philosopher, the sage, the divine—all are ignorant. … Who can drag into daylight and develop the hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-day Saints? We answer that no man can do this without the Priesthood, and having a knowledge of the laws by which spirits are governed; for as ‘no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God,’ so no man knows the spirit of the devil, and his power and influence, but by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of his devices. …

“A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors; for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God. Thousands have felt the influence of its terrible power and baneful effects. …

“As we have noticed before, the great difficulty lies in the ignorance of the nature of spirits, of the laws by which they are governed, and the signs by which they may be known; if it requires the Spirit of God to know the things of God; and the spirit of the devil can only be unmasked through that medium, then it follows as a natural consequence that unless some person or persons have a communication, or revelation from God, unfolding to them the operation of the spirit, they must eternally remain ignorant of these principles; for I contend that if one man cannot understand these things but by the Spirit of God, ten thousand men cannot; it is alike out of the reach of the wisdom of the learned, the tongue of the eloquent, the power of the mighty. And we shall at last have to come to this conclusion, whatever we may think of revelation, that without it we can neither know nor understand anything of God, or the devil; and however unwilling the world may be to acknowledge this principle, it is evident from the multifarious creeds and notions concerning this matter that they understand nothing of this principle, and it is equally as plain that without a divine communication they must remain in ignorance. …

“A man must have the discerning of spirits, as we before stated, to understand these things, and how is he to obtain this gift if there are no gifts of the Spirit? And how can these gifts be obtained without revelation? ‘Christ ascended into heaven, and gave gifts to men; and He gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and some Evangelists, and some Pastors and Teachers’ [see Ephesians 4:8, 11]. And how were Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists chosen? By prophecy (revelation) and by laying on of hands:—by a divine communication, and a divinely appointed ordinance—through the medium of the Priesthood, organized according to the order of God, by divine appointment. The Apostles in ancient times held the keys of this Priesthood—of the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and consequently were enabled to unlock and unravel all things pertaining to the government of the Church, the welfare of society, the future destiny of men, and the agency, power and influence of spirits; for they could control them at pleasure, bid them depart in the name of Jesus, and detect their mischievous and mysterious operations when trying to palm themselves upon the Church in a religious garb, and militate against the interest of the Church and spread of truth. …

“… Our Savior, the Apostles, and even the members of the Church were endowed with this gift, for, says Paul, ‘To one is given the gift of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discerning of spirits.’ [See 1 Corinthians 12:10.] All these proceeded from the same Spirit of God, and were the gifts of God. … No man nor set of men without the regularly constituted authorities, the Priesthood and discerning of spirits, can tell true from false spirits.”18

“Lying spirits are going forth in the earth. There will be great manifestations of spirits, both false and true. … Every spirit, or vision, or singing, is not of God. … The gift of discerning spirits will be given to the Presiding Elder. Pray for him that he may have this gift.”

If I’m following this right, it seems to me that he is saying that there will always be a variety of spirits going around trying to influence men. In the days of Peter and Paul, there were men who had the gifts necessary to detect these spirits. (And it has something to do with the priesthood. Is this referring simply to the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands through the Melchizedek Priesthood, or are we talking about something further?) When this authority of the priesthood was lost, there were still good and evil spirits influencing throughout the world, but there was no one with the gift of discernment (since there was no gift of the Holy Ghost at all) that could declare which spirits were of God and which were not. This ability to discern is one of the things that has been restored in this latter-day time.

He says,

“The Apostles in ancient times held the keys of this Priesthood—of the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and consequently were enabled to unlock and unravel all things pertaining to the government of the Church, the welfare of society, the future destiny of men, and the agency, power and influence of spirits; for they could control them at pleasure, bid them depart in the name of Jesus, and detect their mischievous and mysterious operations when trying to palm themselves upon the Church in a religious garb, and militate against the interest of the Church and spread of truth.”

This sounds like D&C 50:

30But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask; and as ye are appointed to the head, the spirits shall be subject unto you.

31Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spiritmanifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.

32And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—

Same powers. But my questions are:

1. How does this relate to the priesthood?

2. How does this match up with D&C 46 and 50 suggesting that there is a head? Is there only one person who can be at the head?

3. Does “head” mean to match up with Paul’s analogy of a body? That would work well and make a lot of sense.

4. D&C 46 seems to suggest that there will be one who has all these gifts, and therefore can detect what is of God. But what then is the gift of discernment? Isn’t Joseph suggesting that that is the one gift necessary to detect? That one gift is needed, not all of them?

5. He encourages members to pray that the presiding elder (in our terms, would this be a Bishop? The elder’s quorum president? The Stake President?) will have the gift of discernment. (“The gift of discerning spirits will be given to the Presiding Elder. Pray for him that he may have this gift.”)

6. How seriously do/should we take this? Is this what is really being done when a leader prays about callings? Is the idea that they are discerning spiritual gifts? What about those who claim to teach by the word of wisdom or knowledge but do not? What is the proper course there? Am I stepped out of my realm of experience and understanding to even ask that question? (answer: yes, of course! 🙂 Just rambling and pondering here.)

So where does this leave me now?

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