Some time ago, I came across the book “Experiencing the Mighty Change.” Recently, I opened it up (on my iPad) and was truly touched. This feeling has lingered with me, even though I, for a week or so, exchanged it for the frustration that comes from studying Church history and getting acquainted with the traditions of my fathers.
There are many things to ponder, read and talk about, but I’ve settled that the most important thing for me will be to understand and to share my belief and faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The principles of faith, repentance and baptism, along with prayer and fasting, has taken on a whole new dimension. I realize I’ve only just begun, but I’m excited for the journey.
Some time ago, while I was serving in a bishopric, I entertained some doubts about the current state of the Church, and I thought long and hard about asking to be released. I didn’t get clarity from discussions with my wife or trusted friends. Also, my prayers were left unanswered. I got the thought that I should try the scriptures. I took my triple combination from the shelf and opened it up. My answer was given in these verses:
Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls. (Alma 37:33-34)
The Lord showed me what’s important to him and I was on board. This insight has stayed with me, and I’m happy to be able to share my thoughts on the Gospel of Jesus Christ with you.
My goal is never to investigate every aspect of a topic, but rather raise some points I've been pondering lately.
My goal is never to investigate every aspect of a topic, but rather raise some points I've been pondering lately.
Receive the Holy Ghost
When speaking about baptism, the doctrine of Christ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the concept of receiving the Holy Ghost is of paramount importance. Joseph Smith taught the following:
”You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Savior says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” “Though we or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed,” according to Galatians 1:8.23” (July 9, 1843.) DHC 5:498-500. TPJS p. 314.
I believe this rebirth has many names (born again, baptism of fire/spirit, born of God, mighty change of heart and so forth). There might be slight differences between these different concepts. Since I haven’t attained unto this stage of spiritual development, so I don’t know about the subtle differences that might exist. If someone, out of experience will care to enlighten me, please do so! What I write here is what I gather, and understand, from reading the scriptures.
In the scriptural discourses on the reception of the Holy Ghost as a finalizing part of the ordinance of baptism, the laying on of hands aren’t mentioned. Despite this fact, the laying on of hands has been portrayed as an essential component of receiving the Holy Ghost.
Below are a few examples.
Acts 2:1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Mosiah 18:10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
2 Ne 31:11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
12 And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
13 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.
14 But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
3 Ne 11:35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he [the Father; compare with 3 Ne. 19:20] will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
3 Ne 27:20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Moroni 6:4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
3 Ne 26:17 And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.
3 Ne 19:8 [The disciples] knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.
9 And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.
10 And when they had thus prayed they went down unto the water’s edge, and the multitude followed them.
11 And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
12 And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
13 And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
14 And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
3 Ne 28:18 But this much I know, according to the record which hath been given—they did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching; baptizing them, and as many as were baptized did receive the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:37 Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
From these examples, it’s clear that the Holy Ghost is a gift from heaven and can’t be controlled by men (unless these have been given a specific charge; we’ll come to that shortly). Jesus makes it clear when he prayed thusly:
3 Ne 19:20 Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world.
21 Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.
22 Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.
23 And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one.
We receive the Holy Ghost as it is a gift from the Father.
Just a side note at this stage. We tend to think that the Holy Ghost denotes a personage of spirit. We might also understand this concept as a description of what happens to our spirit when it’s touched by the Father—it becomes holy and sanctified!
Why the laying on of hands?
If the Holy Ghost is a gift from the Father, why do we practice the laying on of hands. First, it should be noted, that when someone is confirmed a member of the Church, they are told to receive the Holy Ghost. This isn’t the same thing as giving the Holy Ghost.
When we read how Jesus equipped his Book of Mormon-disciples with the power to give the Holy Ghost, some important things stand out.
3 Ne 18:36 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of these sayings, he touched with his hand the disciples whom he had chosen, one by one, even until he had touched them all, and spake unto them as he touched them.
37 And the multitude heard not the words which he spake, therefore they did not bear record; but the disciples bare record that he gave them power to give the Holy Ghost. And I will show unto you hereafter that this record is true.
38 And it came to pass that when Jesus had touched them all, there came a cloud and overshadowed the multitude that they could not see Jesus.
Jesus explicitly touched his disciples before they could give the Holy Ghost. What if the same thing holds true today–what if you can’t bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost on anyone unless you’ve had the hands of Jesus placed upon you with the specific purpose of granting you this power? What are we then doing at confirmation?
In Moroni 2, we read the “words of Christ, which he spake unto his disciples, the twelve whom he had chosen, as he laid his hands upon them—And he called them by name, saying: Ye shall call on the Father in my name, in mighty prayer; and after ye have done this ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost; and in my name shall ye give it, for thus do mine apostles. Now Christ spake these words unto them at the time of his first appearing; and the multitude heard it not, but the disciples heard it; and on as many as they laid their hands, fell the Holy Ghost.”
From this we learn that the prerequisites for giving the Holy Ghost are:
1. Be touched by Jesus
2. Call on the Father in mighty prayer
3. Receive the power to give the Holy Ghost
4. Give the Holy Ghost in the name of Christ
Joseph Smith is quoted as saying the following:
“We now became anxious to have that promise realized to us, which the angel that conferred upon us the Aaronic Priesthood had given us, viz., that provided we continued faithful, we should also have the Melchizedek Priesthood, which hold the authority of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (History of the Church, Vol.1, Chapter 7 [June 1829 - Apr. 1830] The Day Appointed For Organizing the Church--Revelation On Church Government, p. 62)
The reason why I bring this up is that the Melchizedek Priesthood is bestowed by the voice of God. I guess that the voice of God might qualify as “the touch of Christ” (see JST Gen. 14:25-40).
Why is it important to receive the Holy Ghost?
Lehi taught his son Jacob that ”[Jesus] offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” (2 Ne. 2:7)
On the same theme of the broken heart and contrite spirit, Jesus taught that “ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Ne. 9:20)
When we’ve come to the Savior with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we will receive the Holy Ghost. If we haven’t received the Holy Ghost, we haven’t come unto the Savior according to his word, which also means that ”the ends of the law [hasn’t and cannot] be answered” on our behalf.
Another way to describe the reception of the Holy Ghost is to wash our garments in the blood of Christ. I will post some thoughts on this topic in the near future. Stay tuned!
Are we talking about a process or an event?
Someone who reads the above quoted scriptures might relate to the following excerpt from a teachers’ manual for Alma 5.
Some students may feel that they have not experienced a spiritual rebirth because they haven’t seen a dramatic change in their lives. Ask: Is a change of heart an event or a process? Share the following caution by President Ezra Taft Benson:
“The scriptures record remarkable accounts of men whose lives changed dramatically, in an instant, as it were: Alma the Younger, Paul on the road to Damascus, Enos praying far into the night, King Lamoni. Such astonishing examples of the power to change even those steeped in sin can give confidence that the Atonement can reach even those deepest in despair.
“But we must be cautious as we discuss these remarkable examples. Though they are real and powerful, they are the exception more than the rule. For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing that they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said ‘were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.’ (3 Ne. 9:20; italics added.)” (“A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct. 1989, 5).
Who were these lamanites?
In the 1921 version of the Book of Mormon, 3 Ne. 9:20 (“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”) has two footnotes (y and z). The last of these concerns the conversion Jesus alluded to. The reference is given to Hel. 5:45 and Eth. 12:14.
Hel. 5:45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
Eth. 12:14 Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
The lamanites spoken of were not anything different from Paul or king Lamoni–all of them harbored murderous intentions towards the servants of and believers in God. The same is not true for Enos. To put him together with these ”cold” men (Rev. 3:15-16) is, on my view, unfair and wrong. (Read Denver Snuffer’s ”Beloved Enos” for a full treatise on this.)
President Benson uses the words of Christ to perpetuate the teaching that the baptism of fire is a gradual process we’re barely aware of. True, the process of repentance and change that leads a person to this point of rebirth can be subtle. But the baptism, the rebirth, the becoming of a new creature should and, according to scripture, is as discernible as a woman giving birth to a child.