“Personal Revelation – Part I”
I had a discussion in a class I attended a couple of weeks ago in church. Being a member of the LDS Church, a member growing more and more at odds with the ‘mainstream’ definitions and teachings, I posed a question in class. I posed said question to elicit a meager discussion of some sort, having sat through the first half of the lesson with crickets chirping throughout the audience as the teacher went on. A comment had been made in Sunday school, the hour prior, on a lesson on how to build and sustain Zion, that we “need to be obedient to the brethren.” This lesson and discussion was followed by a one on the importance of obedience as a pillar of our faith.
Obedience to “what” was the essence of my question. As the discussion flowed most agreed that we are obedient to Christ, but I was semi-surprised when even more agreed that we should be obedient to the brethren as they are the mouthpiece(s) of the Lord. No qualifiers were offered, just obedience to the brethren with the tacit understanding that they are teaching – always – what Christ would teach.
I don’t necessarily disagree with that as it is proving increasing difficult to assume that what they teach is what Christ would teach were he were here on earth leading His church. For one such reference, one can look at the April 2009 New Era magazine, a magazine geared for 12-18 year olds. The focus of that month’s articles is, from the cover, “Learning and Earning.” Therein one finds a quote by Gordon B. Hinckley, when he was President of the Church, which reads:
“You are moving into the most competitive age the world has ever known. All around you is competition. You need all the education you can get. Sacrifice a car; sacrifice anything that is needed to be sacrificed to qualify yourselves to do the work of the world. That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.” (emphasis added.)
While this article is not about how divergent current counsel is from what Christ may have taught, it is nevertheless worth noting in this context of whether we follow what a mortal man is telling us or what Christ through the Holy Ghost may be telling us. After all, we were not sent to this earth to obedient to a man or men. We were sent here to learn to be obedient to the Lord. It can and does happen that He sends a servant who preaches His message, and in these instances we must be obedient to that message. Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that we are obedient to the One who sent the servant who preached the message, not the messenger. This is true regardless of whether the messenger is inside or outside the Church.
By this point you may have begun wondering how this relates to personal revelation, and why I am discussing it here. During the conversation I discussed previously I made a comment regarding our need to be “prophets” – as Moses indicated (see Numbers 11:29) – and that we needed to follow personal revelation in our own lives. It is my opinion that the Iron Rod, the rod which leads unfailingly towards Christ, is personal revelation, coupled with the scriptures and inspired teachings. I probably could have phrased it better and introduced the topic better during this class period, but it nevertheless provided the prelude to this write-up. Both during and after class, one member of the class stated a few things along the lines of our individual personal revelations are all too often tainted by personal wants, desires, and ideas. These tainting then corrupt our divine personal revelation, leaving us disjointed and unable to rely on this revelation. As a result, we should look to the “brethren” to teach us and lead us to Christ because their revelation is untainted. Therein lays the issue I would like to discuss. Do we look to someone else to teach us and lead us to Christ because we are prone to relying on our own desires, wants and ideas? If so, in what ways do we do it and in what ways should we not do it?
The difficulty of addressing this topic is underscored by the fact that modern day leaders have repeatedly said that we do not need much additional revelation, at least at the upper echelons of the Church and as an institution. Gordon B. Hinckley, while acting as President of the Church, rather infamously stated in an interview that, “Now we don’t need a lot of continuing revelation. We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation,” as well as reiterating in a separate occasion, “…we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don’t need much revelation.”
Jeffrey R. Holland also declared something along similar lines when he said, “To help us make our way through these experiences, these important junctures in our lives, let me draw from another scriptural reference to Moses. It was given in the early days of this dispensation when revelation was needed, when a true course was being set and had to be continued” (emphasis added). Lest we think this is a modern development in the Church, we turn to Joseph F. Smith when he was also President of the Church. During the Reed Smoot Senate Confirmation Hearings Joseph F. Smith was asked by the confirmation committee, “Have you received any individual revelations yourself, since you became president of the church …?,” to which Joseph F. Smith responded, “I cannot say that I have.”
With a body of leadership stating that there is a less of a need to have and receive revelation today, it’s no wonder that individual members may be at odds with the need for personal revelation. Even if they see a need for personal revelation, all too often this need is given to general authorities of the church to whom members look for guidance. This is further compounded when personal revelation is viewed as being tainted by personal wants and desires, all the while the hierarchy of the church is seemingly protected from these tainting aspects of revelation.
Author Denver Snuffer dedicated an entire chapter of his book Eighteen Verses to this idea taught by Gordon B. Hinckley and Jeffrey R. Holland regarding the time we find ourselves and the revelation we should or should not expect to receive. This chapter in his book is based off an obscure verse of scripture found in an obscure book in the Book of Mormon. Omni 1:11 states:
“And behold, the record of this people is engraven upon plates which is had by the kings, according to the generations; and I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written. And I make an end.”
As a response to this proclamation by Omni, Snuffer offers this poignant thought:
“The writer confirms “that which is sufficient is written” and sincerely believed this to be true. This thought illustrates what his ancestor, Nephi, condemned when he warned against any who should say: “We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!” (2 Nephi 28:29). This is an illustration of the kind of religion which endlessly repeats old inspirational stories while failing to add any new ones. Having faith in what others did long ago, when events in their lives caused their faith to be tested, is no substitute for having faith to see the miraculous in your own life. Joseph Smith had this to say: “Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation with God ….” (TPJS 324).”
One may be led to ask why revelation ceases, or why some feel that “we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!” Whatever the answer to that question, it may also provide insight into why some are afraid to seek personal revelation, or are afraid of being misled by personal revelation, and instead rely on others to show them the way. This is discussed at length in Eighteen Verses, from which I quote only a tiny portion:
“The reason revelation ceased among the direct descendants of Nephi’s line, who originally maintained the plates, is not explained in full. Nor is the reason for the word of the Lord abandoning the Israelite leadership at the time of Eli. It seems likely the reasons had more to do with the inclinations of the leaders to seek revelation than the Lord’s willingness to give it. It may well be those former leaders did not seek revelation because they thought they already had a great store of existing truths which were not being lived fully.”
This statement describes Gordon B. Hinckley’s statement perfectly. In the Book of Mormon we find many, many examples of people using their agency to both pursue and seek for personal revelation, as well as examples of those who turn from it. The Book of Jacob contains one such instance. In the opening chapter of book of Jacob we read:
“For because of faith and great anxiety, it truly had been made manifest unto us concerning our people, what things should happen to them. And we also had many revelations, and the spirit of much prophecy; wherefore, we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come.”
Here, in contrast to what is mentioned by Omni, is a group of people who received “many” revelations, possessed the spirit of prophecy, and were greatly blessed because of their desire to seek after these things. They were not content merely with past revelation that was written and given to people of a day gone by. They exhibited a level of faith sufficient to receive answers and it is noted that they had a “great anxiety” to be taught and instructed. They acknowledged that they did not have all the answers and, instead, they actively sought for revelations and the gift of prophecy. Christ instructs throughout modern scripture that if we ask, we shall receive (see Matt. 21:22; John 16:24; 1 Ne. 15:11; Enos 1:15; among many others). The use of the world “shall” in scripture, especially in this context of asking and receiving, “implies a promise, command or determination … when shall is uttered with emphasis in such phrases, it expresses determination in the speaker, and implies an authority to enforce the act.”
This is no empty promise. Christ wants us to ask and, indeed, is imploring us to ask. He wants to give us light, knowledge and truth. He wants us to grow. He is not content with us merely surviving this mortal experience, simply going through the motions. It should also be noted that Christ is disappointed when we do not ask and do not search out things we do not know. Christ mentioned as much when he visited the Nephite disciples at the time of his appearance on the American continent. While teaching these disciples about the meaning of the “other sheep I have which are not of this fold” statement he had told to the apostles who were at Jerusalem. Christ specifically mentions in 3 Nephi 16:4 that “if it so be that my people at Jerusalem … do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, …,” implying that there is knowledge and insight to be gained from asking questions, especially questions on topics for which Christ has left a trail of breadcrumbs. It is interesting to note, then, in this context that Christ was troubled “because of the wickedness of the House of Israel” (3 Nephi 17:14), wickedness which can be related to this very discussion of not seeking for further light and knowledge and having an inquiring mind.
As quoted above, the inclination to ask seems to be lacking in our day, most importantly at the individual level, but also at the institutional level. To say that the odds of receiving something we do not ask for are slim would be an understatement. While it is true that we do, on occasion, receive blessings for which we have not specifically asked, many blessings await us and are only given once we ask and petition the Lord. We are a complacent people, content to let others teach us and tell us what we should be doing, what we should be taught, how it should be taught and how to think and act. From media pundits who tell us what to think to books telling us how to improve ourselves, from radio personalities informing us of our opinion to uninspired leaders interpreting life’s important truths, we find it much easier to turn to someone else than we find it to develop our relationship with the Divine.
Accessing the airwaves of personal revelation is no easy feat. It is one that must be fine tuned and understood. It is not like turning on a television set to our favorite news show or the radio to our favorite station. While personal revelation can happen much more frequently than it probably does in our individual lives, God will still try our patience. It is perhaps this line of thinking which led Neal A. Maxwell to declare:
“One’s life … cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free … how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy! … Real faith…is required to endure this necessary but painful developmental process.”
In our quest to acquire more constant personal revelation we will still be led, nevertheless, through times of trial, doubt, uncertainty and difficulty. Yet in this process of fine-tuning and in viewing those instances of personal revelation, we should view the instances of personal revelation which we receive as gifts from God as we try to walk the path which He would have us follow. In thinking over this topic I was reminded of an experience Edgar Cayce, who some call either the “sleeping prophet” or the “sleeping (false) prophet,” had. Before sharing that story; however, this scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants is applicable to this conversation:
“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which was given to him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” (D&C 88:33).
Complement this verse with this dream Edgar Cayce supposedly had, as related by Jess Stearn:
“Cayce was literally a dreamer, and he felt people could learn about themselves and the world about them by studying their own dreams. “Consciousness is sought by man for his own diversion. In sleep, the soul seeks the real diversion or the real activity of self.” If he didn’t understand a dream, he would lie down and interpret it in trance.
“In one dream, he saw himself climbing to a heavenly chapel to pray. A celestial custodian showed him a large room crammed with packages, beautifully wrapped and addressed to different people. They had not been delivered, and the custodian sorrowfully explained why, “These are gifts for which people have been praying, but they lost their faith just before the date of delivery.”
Of the many gifts our Heavenly Father and Christ would give us, surely personal revelation is one of the greatest for in receiving it we are receiving pure knowledge, inspiration and guidance from the pure source. Indeed, personal revelation is a very real connection with the Divine. Do we, on occasion (more frequently?), fail to view personal revelation as both a gift and guidance from the Divine? Do we reject the gift if we are afraid to utilize it, or prefer to hear someone else tell us what guidance we’re seeking? To be sure, church leaders and inspired individuals do provide words of counsel which can bless and uplift, but there’s a greater goal to be gained and a greater gift to be received than merely listening to the experience of others. As quoted previously, Joseph Smith stated this very thing when he said, “Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation with God ….” It is only in establishing our own connection, our own familiarity with God that we can begin to grasp a complete view of our condition and our true relation with God. Anything else is inferior.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, as well as others, forewarned us about our tendency to rely on other men, especially leaders. Brigham Young once stated, during a conference at the Utah Bowery in 1867, that, “Brethren, this Church will be led onto the very brink of hell by the leaders of this people. ….” Joseph Smith similarly addressed the saints, though in a different context, whereupon he was expounded the meaning of the fourteenth chapter of Ezekial in the Old Testament.
As found in The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, we read:
“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel – said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church – that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls – APPLIED IT TO THE PRESENT STATE OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS – SAID IF THE PEOPLE DEPARTED FROM THE LORD, THEY MUST FALL – THAT THEY WERE DEPENDING ON THE PROPHET, HENCE WERE DARKENED IN THEIR MINDS, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy.“
The idolatry evidenced in Ezekiel 14 was that the people went to the prophet for their knowledge of God, not to God himself. They set up a stumbling block, a mediator for THE mediator (our Lord and Savior). That is to say that instead of approaching God through prayer, supplication, fasting or whatever method, for knowledge of Him and his Son, we tend to approach a man. No matter how inspired that man may be, the gospel is an individual gospel meant for “the one.” That one, to me, is me. That one, to you, is you. As mentioned above, it is an imperative duty we have to seek an individual relationship and connection with God and when we do not undertake to fulfill that duty our minds must become “darkened.”
Ultimately, the Savior did what He did for us as individuals. The relationship we need to be nurturing and cultivating is that relationship with Him, on an individual level. To suggest that we need a mediator for THE mediator is rightly preposterous, and yet that’s what we largely believe today – that the knowledge of the Savior is best obtained through other “inspired” men. We forego drinking water from the Pure Source for water from another source.
The problem we have, as I see it, is that we have been instructed by leaders of the Church that they (the leaders) simply cannot lead us astray. Even if they wanted to, they are somehow prevented from so doing because of their position in the Church. This teaching seemingly originated with Wilford Woodruff and the now famous Manifesto that did away with the practice (at least publicly) of polygamy in 1890. Since his statement those many years ago there has been an increasing clarion call by the leaders reiterating this very same line of thinking. Perhaps Joseph Fielding Smith summed this feeling up best when he stated:
“There is one thing in which we should have exceedingly clear in our minds. Neither the President of the Church, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.”
To be sure, Joseph Fielding Smith is not alone in this belief. Whatever the original intent of this statement, or the current meaning, many members rely on this teaching and is even shared in the form of a testimony during numerous church meetings. This teaching only serves to promote the idea that all we really need to do is trust the brethren, trust the leaders of the church and do, ultimately, whatever they instruct us to do over the pulpit, in magazines or in manuals. Given that they profess that their unified voice always represents the “mind and will of the Lord,” all we, as lay members, need to do is follow them and what they say.
As attractive as this teaching is to the natural man and the idea that there is some mortal being that we can trust at all times, in all places and no matter what, it simply is not scriptural. The Lord, in the Doctrine & Covenants, instructs us that:
“… man bshould not counsel his fellow man, neither ctrust in the arm of flesh – But that every man might aspeak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world…”
In a couple of different scriptures in the Book of Mormon, Nephi spoke of trusting in what he called the “arm of flesh”. The arm of flesh, quite literally, is trusting in man to teach and preach and lead the way to God and Christ. It is trusting in man to protect, guide and instruct us. It is trusting in man – any man – for our salvation and spiritual education. Some may argue that a “prophet” is not a “man” in this definition, but I have yet to find any example which qualifies “man” to exclude someone holding a certain calling in a Church, no matter how elevated. Clearly trusting in the arm of flesh has other ancillary definitions, but trusting in the arm of flesh has a direct correlation with our ability to receive and obtain personal revelation. When we seek to be taught from men, we will obtain men’s understanding. When we seek to be taught from the Spirit, we will obtain divine understanding. These two are not the same and no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we are still left alone with the intimate decision of who we follow.
Nephi makes these two statements in regard to trusting in the arm of flesh:
“O Lord, I have atrusted in thee, and I will btrust in thee forever. I will not put my ctrust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his dtrust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.”
“Cursed is he that putteth his atrust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the bprecepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
The second statement contains a very appropriate and important exemption for trusting in man, that being when the precepts taught by a man are “given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” How, then, can we know when something taught to us is given by this power, or if it’s merely given without the power? It would seem that personal revelation is what is needed to interpret discourses, articles, lessons, teachings, preaching and any idea put forth which claims to be from God. Truth is not confined to an institution, to a calling, or to a specific group of men leading a specific religious institution. Truth transcends the boxes we create for it.
Christ specifically told us that He, personally, will teach any and all willing to listen; all we have to do is “open the door” and ask God who “gives liberally.” Sometimes this teaching does come from a messenger He sends, but mostly it comes while we are on our solitary road, when we ask and seek for the knowledge and truth only He can provide. Christ also taught, elsewhere, that we should all stand or fall by ourselves, trusting in no other person than Him alone.
Indeed, it’s an individual journey and process which we must undertake in our own solitary way. The end goal, the only goal, after all, of personal revelation is to create and gain an intimate relationship with our Savior. Without that personal relationship life loses its meaning and we are left alone, man/woman, in this lone and dreary world. On speaking of this individual journey contrasted with the seeming comfort we may find in a collectivist view of being a “chosen” person, Denver Snuffer opined:
“Each of us must find Christ for ourselves. Popular opinion and the collective view of who are God’s “chosen people” cannot be trusted. There has never been a safe, broad mainstream which reliably prepared or can prepare anyone to receive Him. It has never happened this way. We delude ourselves into thinking it will be otherwise for us. It was always designed that the Gospel of Christ requires you to find Him in His solitary way. His way is that of a “thief” who comes without credentials, without trappings and without public acclaim. His only sign of authority may be that your heart will burn within you as He speaks to you while in the way. Often times He will require you to first accept the unlikely truths which save, originating from unlikely sources, before He will permit you to come to the Throne of Grace.”
Of all the scriptures which discuss the nurturing of this vital relationship with Christ, I think this scripture in Jeremiah clarifies it best:
31 Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a anew bcovenant with the house of cIsrael, and with the house of Judah:
32 Not according to the acovenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
33 But this shall be the acovenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my blaw in their inward parts, and write it in their chearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all aknow me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their biniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
In all likelihood God is speaking to us far more often than we realize. Christ stated that He was the “light and life of the world – a light that shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” This is the same light of Christ that has been given to every man, woman and child on this earth. Unfortunately, most of us are walking in darkness at noonday and fail to recognize the light that is within. In order to hear the voice of God and receive revelation, all we really need to do is to begin listening.
It would seem, then, that the ultimate goal that both God the Father and Christ have for us here in mortality, as the verses in Jeremiah indicate, is to come to know them for ourselves. To establish a connection and relationship with them, a connection and relationship that transcends all other relationships and experiences we might otherwise have here in mortality. That goal would include having his “law” written in our hearts and being numbered among “[His] people.” In the movie The Other Side of Heaven, a dramatization of John H. Groberg’s missionary experiences, we hear this quote, which reiterates this very point:
“There is a connection between heaven and earth; finding that connection gives meaning to everything, including death; missing it makes everything meaningless, including life.”
We must find that connection, open that door, and seek for the Holy One of Israel ourselves. That connection is the Holy One of Israel through revelation that He is waiting to give us, if we would but answer His call and knock. That connection is what will open the doors of eternity to us. He will write His law upon our hearts and we will become His people, but only if we trust in Him and no other. We must approach the Mediator Himself, not some substitute, in order to be taught on an individual level from the Master teacher.
Hinckley, Gordon B. “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for the Youth.” New Era
, January 2001, page 8.
 Hinckley, Gordon B. Compass Interview. 9 November 1997.
 Hinckley, Gordon B. San Francisco Chronicle interview with Don Lattin. 13 April 1997.
 Holland, Jeffrey R. Cast Not Away Therefore Thy Confidence. June 2000 Liahona.
 Reed Smoot Case, Volume 1, pages 483-484.
 Snuffer, Denver. Eighteen Verses. Pages 104-105.
 Id. Page 122.
 See Jacob 1:5-6.
 Definition of shall, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,shall
 See 3 Nephi 15:11-24; 3 Nephi 16:1-4; and 3 Nephi 17.
 See Doctrine & Covenants 93:24.
 See Mosiah 23:14; 2 Nephi 28:31.
 Maxwell, Neal A. “Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds.” Ensign, May 1991.
 Stearn, Jess. Edgar Cayce – The Sleeping Prophet, page 22.
 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 324.
 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Section Five. Pages 237-238.
 Smith, Joseph Fielding. Conference Report, April 1972. Page 99.
 Doctrine & Covenants 1:19-20.
 2 Nephi 4:34.
 2 Nephi 28:31.
 In Come, Let Us Adore Him, Denver Snuffer discusses this idea. On pages 70-71 of his book, he states, “Christ’s message is his authority. His words are what distinguish His true ministers from false ones He never sent. Anyone teaching His truth should be recognized as His messenger. He taught this to Moroni. Those who will receive Christ in any generation do so because they hear and recognize His words (see Ether 4:12). Anyone who will not believe in His words, no matter who He sends to speak them, will not believe in Christ or His Father. Those who trust only institutional sources of truth, whether they are Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, or Latter-day Saint, believe in an institution, and do not believe in Christ. The ability to individually recognize His words distinguishes those who are saved from those who are lost.”
 Revelation 3:20.
 James 1:5.
 Mark 9:40-48 (JST)
 Snuffer, Denver. Come, Let Us Adore Him. Pages 68-69. 2009.
 Jeremiah 31:31-34.
 Doctrine & Covenants 45:7.
 Doctrine & Covenants 84:44-47.
 Doctrine & Covenants 95:5-6.
 Groberg, John H. The Other Side of Heaven.