Personal Revelation – A Way to Discern Truth from Error

The First Vision(This article was given as a talk on Sunday, September 13th, 2015, and has been edited for content)

From the 9th Article of Faith:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

This forceful declaration of belief, as well as the rest of the Articles of Faith, were penned by Joseph Smith as part of a letter to a Mr. John Wentworth… The Editor and Proprietor of the Chicago Democrat newspaper.

Elder B. H. Roberts said the following about this section of the Wentworth Letter:

“The epitome of the doctrines of the Church, since called “The Articles of Faith” … were not produced by the labored efforts and harmonized contentions of scholastics, but were struck off by one inspired mind at a single effort … The combined directness . . . simplicity and comprehensiveness of this statement of the principles of our religion may be relied upon as strong evidence of a divine inspiration resting upon the Prophet, Joseph Smith.

In our day, there is no better example of a person acquainted with the process of receiving revelation than Joseph Smith. Tutored by angels, expert in translation, familiar with dreams and visions and prophecy—yet, Joseph Smith did not keep these things for himself.

He said of each of us that “It is the privilege of the children of God to come to God and get revelation. … God is not a respecter of persons; we all have the same privilege.

In a letter to Isaac Galland on March 22, 1839, the Prophet Joseph said:

“We believe that we have a right to revelations, visions, and dreams from God, our heavenly Father; and light and intelligence, through the gift of the Holy Ghost, in the name of Jesus Christ, on all subjects pertaining to our spiritual welfare; if it so be that we keep his commandments, so as to render ourselves worthy in his sight.”

What kinds of revelation pertain to our spiritual welfare? Let me suggest three areas:

  1. Personal, revealed witnesses of the truthfulness of the gospel – not just a one-time answer to a prayer that tells us that the church is true . . . but a renewed witness, over and over again, that The Book of Mormon is the word of God, that priesthood keys were restored to the earth and are still operable today among living prophets, and that Joseph Smith was the first prophet of that Restoration. A continued witness that Christ lives!
  2. A daily flow of personally received, heavenly inspiration that helps us to discern truth from error so that we are not deceived.
  3. A repeated personal assurance from the Lord concerning our standing with Him . . . A merciful assurance that He loves us, and is pleased with our efforts and our repentance as we strive to become more like Him.

I want to spend a few minutes talking about each of these types of personal revelation.

# 1 – Personal Witnesses of Truth that Build Testimony

We are all familiar with Moroni’s promise. We can know the truth of all things by the power of the Holy Ghost. If we need to know that The Book of Mormon is true, or if Joseph Smith was a prophet, or if priesthood keys were restored, all we need to do is study it out, and ask.

I have studied. I have asked. I know that they are true.

But this is only the beginning of our spiritual journey back to our Father. Once we have a testimony of the restored gospel, we must press forward and continue to commune with Him. That brings me to a second type of personal revelation that is critical to obtaining our salvation:

# 2 – Daily Revelation to Aid Us in Discerning Truth from Error

In the letter to Isaac Galland that I have already referred to, there was more to the quote about revelation and visions and dreams. Let me read it again, but continue on with the paragraph that follows. The Prophet Joseph said:

“We believe that we have a right to revelations, visions, and dreams from God, our heavenly Father; and light and intelligence, through the gift of the Holy Ghost, in the name of Jesus Christ, on all subjects pertaining to our spiritual welfare; if it so be that we keep his commandments, so as to render ourselves worthy in his sight. We believe that no man can administer salvation through the gospel, to the souls of men, in the name of Jesus Christ, except he is authorized from God, by revelation, or by being ordained by someone whom God hath sent by revelation . . .”

Elder Russell M. Nelson came to visit the Indianapolis South Stake on Saturday, September 19, 1992, and I was privileged to attend a priesthood meeting where he addressed the brethren. His instruction was powerful. I marked it down in my scriptures . . . the very verses that he expounded upon which made such an impression on me.

Almost 8 years later, on April 15th, 2000, I attended another leadership meeting for a multi-stake conference in Indianapolis where Elder Russell M. Nelson was again presiding. And again, his instruction was powerful. The impressions he made upon my mind at that time have been seared into my soul.

Some of Elder Nelson’s training was different from the first time I heard him. But this part was the same: He again spent about 20 minutes discussing verses from the Doctrine and Covenants . . . the same ones he had shared in 1992, just 8 years earlier.

These are the verses from Section 43:

For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate  . . .

Ponder that for a moment. What does it mean to “come in at the gate?”

Let me continue:

“. . . shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before, to teach those revelations which you have received and shall receive through him whom I have appointed.

And now, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know how to act and direct my church, how to act upon the points of my law and commandments, which I have given.

And thus ye shall become instructed in the law of my church, and be sanctified by that which ye have received, and ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me—

And then verses 15, 16, 17:

15 Again I say, hearken ye elders of my church, whom I have appointed: Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit;

16 And ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken.

17 Hearken ye, for, behold, the great day of the Lord is nigh at hand.

And finally verses 25, 26:

25 How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants, and by the ministering of angels, and by mine own voice, and by the voice of thunderings, and by the voice of lightnings, and by the voice of tempests, and by the voice of earthquakes, and great hailstorms, and by the voice of famines and pestilences of every kind, and by the great sound of a trump, and by the voice of judgment, and by the voice of mercy all the day long, and by the voice of glory and honor and the riches of eternal life, and would have saved you with an everlasting salvation, but ye would not!

26 Behold, the day has come, when the cup of the wrath of mine indignation is full.

 

We live in a time that will try the hearts of men. In fact, the hearts of many shall fail them. It is imperative that we learn the ways of the spirit so that we can know, for ourselves, how the spirit operates . . . how to recognize the spirit. How to discern truth from error.

One of the best talks I have ever read on this subject was given by Elder Marion G. Romney, October 1960. In the interest of time, I will paraphrase some of the sections from his talk. This is what he said:

I would like now to suggest some tests which can safely be used to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit. . . .

Anything purporting to pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be put to the following four simple tests:

  1. Does it purport to originate in the wisdom of men, or was it revealed from heaven? If it originated in the wisdom of men, it is not of God.

. . .We never need to be deceived by the learning of the world. We can always with safety reject those doctrines which are rounded in the wisdom of men.

  1. Does the teaching bear the proper label? You will remember that when his Nephite disciples inquired of Jesus what they should call the church, he said unto them: “And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Ne. 27:4-8).

From the foregoing it is perfectly plain that if any teaching purporting to be from Christ comes under any label other than that of Jesus Christ, we can know it is not of God.

  1. The last phrase of the above quotation gives us the third test. “But if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.” The teaching must not only come under the proper label, but it must also conform to the other teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Now the fourth and last test I shall mention is: Does it come through the proper Church channel? We read in the 42nd Section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to anyone to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by someone who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11).

In the light of this divinely established order, how can any man accept the doctrine of authority from some secret source unknown to the Church? The Lord could not have made it any plainer that one’s authority must come through the established order of the Church, and the President of the Church stands at the head of that order. The Lord has placed him there.

. . . Now, brethren, if we will keep these things in mind, we shall not be deceived by false teachings. I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. At that time there was a great deal of criticism against the President of the Church because of a front-page editorial some of you may remember. We talked about it. When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.”

I have thought much about that. I remember that counselors in the Presidency have been deceived. I remember that members of the Twelve have been deceived and left the Church, and men in every other Council in the Church have been deceived. But there has never been a President of the Church, and according to President Grant, and I believe him, there never will be a President of this Church who will lead the people astray.

There is a First Presidency statement that is as true today as the day it was written. Let me share it:

A Voice of Warning
Official Letter of Declaration by the First Presidency

Improvement Era, 1913, Vol. Xvi. September, 1913 No. 11

To the Officers and Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

From the days of Hiram Page (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 28), at different periods there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. Sometimes these have come to the men and women who because of transgression became easy prey to the Arch-Deceiver. At other times people who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led astray by false spirits, who exercise an influence so imitative of that which proceeds from a Divine source, that even these persons, who think they are “the very elect,” find it difficult to discern the essential difference. Satan himself has transformed himself to be apparently “an angel of light.”

When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration, convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also, they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable. In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense. No person has the right to induce his fellow members of the Church to engage in speculations, or take stock in ventures of any kind on the specious claim of Divine revelation, or vision, or dream, especially when it is in opposition to the voice of recognized authority, local or general. The Lord’s Church “is a house of order.” It is not governed by individual gifts or manifestations, but by the order and power of the Holy Priesthood as sustained by the voice and vote of the Church in its appointed conferences.

The history of the Church records many pretended revelations claimed by imposters or zealots who believed in the manifestations they sought to lead other persons to accept, and in every instance, disappointment, sorrow and disaster have resulted there-from. Financial loss and sometimes utter ruin have followed. We feel it our duty to warn the Latter-day Saints against fake mining schemes which have no warrant for success beyond the professed spiritual manifestations of their projectors and the influence gained over the excited minds of their victims. We caution the Saints against investing money or property in shares of stock which bring no profit to anyone but those who issue and trade in them. Fanciful schemes to make money for the alleged purpose of “redeeming Zion” or providing means for “the salvation of the dead” or other seemingly worthy objects, should not deceive anyone acquainted with the order of the Church, and will result only in waste of time and labor, which might be devoted now to doing something tangible and worthy and of record on earth and in heaven.

Be not led by any spirit or influence that discredits established authority and contradicts true scientific principles and discoveries, or leads away from the direct revelations of God for the government of the Church. The Holy Ghost does not contradict its own revealings. Truth is always harmonious with itself. Piety is often the cloak of error. The counsels of the Lord through the channel he has appointed will be followed with safety, therefore, O! ye Latter-day Saints, profit by these words of warning.

JOSEPH F. SMITH,
ANTHON H. LUND,
CHARLES W. PENROSE,
First Presidency.

* * *

These words are true. I know they are true, because I have applied these tests to situations in my own life. And I promise you that you can avoid the deceptions of the adversary if you will trust in the Lord. You will come to know that his kingdom is a kingdom of order.

Revelation that pertains to the kingdom of God and is intended for the general membership, will come to the members of the church from those who hold keys.

Now let me ask: Is it possible that a member of the church can see a vision, or have a dream, that pertains to events in the last days? Or, can they be given a glimpse of heaven, beyond the veil? Or, can they know things that will shortly come to pass in the kingdom of God?

YES! It is not only possible, it happens. In fact, we are encouraged to learn the mysteries of God for ourselves.

Joseph Smith said: “… God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them. …” (Teachings, p. 149.)

However . . .

Remember the “gate” that we referred to in DC 43? There is order. This is what Brigham Young said about these types of spiritual experiences:

“Should you receive a vision or revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it as close, and lock it as tight as heaven is to you, and make it as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for he cannot safely reveal himself to such persons (Discourses of Brigham Young, 40–41).”

Beware especially those who claim to have secret knowledge, who are more than willing to share with other members of the church, if the member can show that they also are a true seeker of knowledge . . .

There are voices today . . . some who have become very vocal . . . who have written popular books who think that the church has fallen. There are MANY who are claiming dreams, and visions, and revelations, and special inspiration . . .

. . . and there are those who are saying that the world is on the brink of destruction and that they have the solution to all our woes if we will only prepare like they are,

. . . and those who have said the brethren are out of touch, and don’t understand the times we live in, and that they need to change church policy to align with societal norms,

. . . and those who have said the church went off the rails in the early days and that the priesthood has been lost, except for those who have had “special ordinations”,

. . . and those who say that only an elect few will be saved, (and of course they themselves are among the elect who are sent here to warn the rest of us) who say that the secrets of gaining salvation are in their newly published books,

. . . and those who go out of their way to state, “I am not a prophet!” and constantly encourage their hearers to follow the brethren, yet in another breath insist that their knowledge is hidden from most of the rest of the members of the church, including most leadership . . .

Contrary to the voices of these apostates in our day . . . The Church as restored by Joseph Smith, is still the Church with priesthood keys, and it will be the Church body that will welcome Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven at the Second Coming!

Here are two evidences that the apostates are wrong:

First: There will be no Second Restoration.

When Daniel saw in vision the representation of the church in the last days . . . that it would be “a stone cut out of the mountain without hands,” and that it would “break in pieces and consume all kingdoms”, and that it would “roll forth until it has filled the whole earth,”. . .

. . . this rough hewn, rolling stone will not be broken against the kingdoms of the world. The stone will not break! It will not disappear.

. . . the latter-day restoration as was prophesied . . . happens ONCE in scripture! There are not TWO restorations of the gospel in the last days.

. . . and to be more accurate, The Restoration that began with Joseph Smith, did not ever come to an end. It was not a one-time thing. The canon of scripture is not closed. Revelation continues yet today. When the Lord sees fit to reveal them, we have been promised the Brass Plates (a fullness of the Old Testament and other works lost, like Zenos, Zenock, Neum, and others). The Sealed Portion (words of the Brother of Jared and his people). The records of the scattered tribes. These promised scriptures will not be revealed except through the proper channel. And the prophets, seers, and revelators of today still hold the keys.

Second: the brethren are not out of touch. Do you remember the recent talk by Elder Ballard where he addressed that very thing? The talk is called “Stay In The Boat And Hold On!” from October conference 2014. If you have any doubts about the apostolic leadership of our day, I would encourage you to read that talk again.

As we hear the mingling of voices in the world today, we need to rely on personal revelation to discern truth from error. I hope that we will all stay close to the brethren. The Lord will never allow our 15 ordained Apostles, and especially the President at the head, to lead the church astray. It is not in the program. Anyone claiming it has happened, or that it is happening, does not understand the scriptures, or the doctrines of Restoration.

Granted, there is a sifting going on in the church today. The sifting will get more severe as time goes on. Many will fall away. And there may be individual general authorities or even apostles who leave the church. It has happened before. But as a whole, the 15 will not fail us, and we can be assured that if we follow their counsel, we will be doing the will of the Lord for ourselves and our families and will be blessed for it.

Finally, the last type of personal revelation I wish to discuss:

# 3 – Personal Assurances, through Grace and Mercy that the Lord Loves Us

Again from the Prophet Joseph Smith’s letter to Isaac Galland:

“We believe that we have a right to revelations, visions, and dreams from God, our heavenly Father; and light and intelligence, through the gift of the Holy Ghost, in the name of Jesus Christ, on all subjects pertaining to our spiritual welfare; if it so be that we keep his commandments, so as to render ourselves worthy in his sight.

The greatest thing we can do for our own salvation is to keep the commandments and find out from the Lord what we need to do to repent.

Of any prayer for personal revelation that we could offer . . . I can promise you that THIS one will always be answered . . . Ask the Lord: “What do I need to repent of?”

Ask. Listen. And then because you have prayed with real intent, carry out your repentance. Make amends. Change your life. Become what the Savior would have you be: Become more Christ-like.

And then once you have acted on that revelation, repeat the process. Even though I constantly struggle to improve myself in this fashion, I know that the principle is a true principle!

One final quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

“Religion comes from God by revelation and deals with spiritual things; and unless and until a man has received revelation, he has not received religion, and he is not on the path leading to salvation in our Father’s kingdom.” (April 1971)

* * * * * * *

 

Additional Quotes:

Joseph Smith

“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.”

Collection of Quotes from other Church Leaders

A re-issue of the First Presidency Letter in 1945 by President George Albert Smith

 

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