Authorized Messengers and the Gift of the Holy Ghost
January 30, 2018
College of Education & Human Development Associate Dean
Ross Baron was born and raised in Southern California and joined the Church at the age of 18. He began his full-time missionary service in the Argentina Buenos Aires South Mission and later the newly created Argentina Bahia Blanca Mission. When he returned home, he met, fell in love with, and married Kathleen Ann Bolton in the Los Angeles Temple. They have five sons, two daughters, and eighteen grandchildren.
Brother Baron received his bachelor's degree from BYU in finance, and his master's and Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in religion and social ethics.
Brother Baron was involved in business and entrepreneurship before he began work as a full-time Institute Director CES Coordinator in Southern California. He came to teach at BYU-Idaho in the summer of 2005.
He has served in the Church as a gospel doctrine teacher, young men's president, stake mission president, bishop, and stake president. He and his wife currently teach the Family Relations class in their ward.
He has spoken about and defended the Church at firesides, on the radio and the History Channel, and at Christian colleges and universities. Additionally, he has played the drums in several bands, and has been a contestant on The Price is Right, the U.S. Open Chess Tournament, and the "Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon."
The revelation known as section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given in February of 1829, over a full year before the church was formally organized upon the earth. As you know the first verse states: "Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men" (D&C 4:1). It is fascinating that the Lord called the work "marvelous." He could have just said, "Now behold, a work is about to come forth among the children of men," or perhaps, an "important" work, an "interesting" work, or maybe even a "difficult" work.
On the discussion board, share some of the many possible reasons you think that the work to come forth was described as "marvelous"?
Many of you in this congregation could recite the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. This revelation was given in February of 1829, over a full year before the Church was formally organized upon the earth. As you know, the first verse states, "Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men." It is fascinating that the Lord called the work marvelous. He could have just said, "Now behold, a work is about to come forth among the children of men," or perhaps an "important" work, an "interesting" work, or maybe even a "difficult" work. Why is the work that is to come forth described as "marvelous"? From the discussion board, two students answered that question this way.
First, from Cece Bell: "Is there really any other word that describes the gospel? The act of disciples coming together to find their lost brothers and sisters? I have found the lost. I have been the lost. It is the feeling of burdens lifted, forgiveness granted, hope grown, fear vanished, emptiness filled, clouds dissipated. It's the feeling of coming home. Perhaps even 'marvelous' doesn't give it justice."
And then this from McKensey Shaw: "I see the word 'marvelous' encompassing all those things you mentioned, Brother Baron. "Marvelous" is important, interesting, and difficult. It is also wonderful, extraordinary, amazing, astounding, astonishing, awesome, breathtaking, sensational,
remarkable, spectacular, stupendous, staggering, stunning. Yes, I copied and pasted from Google dictionary.... I feel it's almost indescribable. Something that brings me to tears and causes a swelling in my soul." While there could be many, many reasons this work is marvelous, I suggest, today, there are at least two reasons why this work is marvelous: first, because there are living prophets and apostles on earth, and second, God has restored the gift of the Holy Ghost. Perhaps as Latter-day Saints we take for granted living prophets and apostles and that the gift of the Holy Ghost is available once more on the earth. As most of you are aware, that has not always been the case.
In the middle-to-late part of the first century, a man named Clement was searching for the truth and the answers to those terrible existential questions that we all have. Why are we here, where did we come from, and what happens when we die? Clement attended the schools of the brightest minds of the philosophers but was sorely disappointed by their endless philosophizing, disagreement, and confusion. According to the book Clementine Recognitions, he finally met with the Apostle Peter. Peter took the time to explain to Clement why a prophet is necessary. He reported on their meeting: "Peter compares the world in which we live to a great house filled with dense smoke--blinding smoke produced by human unbelief, malice, ambition, greed, etc. Because of this smoke, the people who live in the house can see nothing clearly, but we must imagine them groping about with weak and running eyes, coughing and scolding, bumping into each other, tripping over furniture, trying to make a bit of reality here and there--a corner, a step, a wall--and then trying to fit their desperate and faulty data together to make some kind of sense."[i] The only way out of this mess, the mass of confusion, "is to consult with one who has come from the pure air of the outside.... Such a clear view comes only by revelation and can only be conveyed to [humanity], Peter insists again and again, by a true prophet."[ii] Peter was teaching Clement that revelation to prophets was the only solution to the world's confusion. As wonderful as science, art, and human discovery are, ultimately the soul's questions can only be answered by God.
In 1839, Joseph Smith and others had an interview with the president of the United States, Martin Van Buren. "In our interview with the President, he interrogated us wherein we differed in our religion from the other religions of the day. Brother Joseph said we differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost."[iii]
Think about the question that Martin Van Buren asked: Wherein does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differ from the other religions of the day? What a great question! How might you have answered that question? Of all the answers that the prophet could have given, he chose to focus, as the essential difference between our religion and all others, on the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The gift of the Holy Ghost is what sets us apart from the world. But we cannot have it without authorized messengers, true prophets and apostles who administer divine ordinances and covenants with authority. Prophets are seers. But not only is the prophet able to teach and testify of the truth to which he sees; he also, through the authority given him by God, invites the entire world to enter into the path which will enable them, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, to see and understand for themselves. This is reminiscent of when Moses exclaimed, "Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets."[iv] That is the invitation prophets make to us by administering the gift of the Holy Ghost. They want us all to see for ourselves.
In the third chapter of John, a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said the following. Please listen very carefully to the titles he gives to Jesus: "The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him."[v]
Nicodemus calls the Savior a rabbi, a teacher come from God, a miracle worker, and says that God is with Him. In one sense, all of these appellations are true, and one gets the sense that Nicodemus is sincere and attempting to pay the Master a compliment. However, in another and very important sense, everything Nicodemus said was absolutely wrong. Jesus was not some rabbi or some teacher or some miracle worker or, as grand as it is, even someone who had the Spirit of God with him. Nicodemus was standing in front of Jehovah, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Nicodemus, as sincere as he might have been, was unable to "see" who it was who was standing in front of him; he could not understand the person with whom he was conversing. What the Savior then said to Nicodemus was an attempt to help and teach Nicodemus, and all of us: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."[vi]
How in the world does what Nicodemus said in verse 2 relate to what the Savior said in verse 3? Jesus does not respond to any of Nicodemus's compliments. He completely changes the subject. Jesus is saying that to "see" the kingdom of God, to "see" who it is that Nicodemus was conversing with, to "see" the things of God, one must be "born again"--that is, have their sight expanded and enlarged, or, another way of saying it, have their blindness removed, by the power and influence of the Holy Ghost. Nicodemus wanted to have an intellectual conversation with a brilliant rabbi. Jesus would have none of that! He changed the subject so that they could focus on the only topic that would bring Nicodemus the insight he needed.
It is through the power of the Holy Ghost that we can "see" the things of God. We can see through the dense, thick clouds of darkness that envelop our mortal sphere. It is through the medium of the Holy Ghost that we can see that there are apostles and prophets on earth, that the plan of salvation is true, and that the person with whom Nicodemus was talking was and is the Savior and Redeemer of the world.
Let me give you an example of how this could work. Let's say you take someone not of our faith to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and you tour the area. You go to Welfare Square and even are able to meet with one of the Twelve. They marvel at the buildings, the organization, the humanitarian efforts, and the good humor and kindness of the General Authority they met. They say something like, "That was a great tour, and thank you for allowing me to sightsee around and meet with one of your church officials." As with Nicodemus, in one sense all of what they saw and said was true. But in another sense, all of that is absolutely wrong. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on earth, and the member of the Twelve with whom they met is an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as were Peter, James, and John. However, like Nicodemus, unless that person has an experience with the Holy Ghost, they will never "see" those things. Spiritual sight can only happen when we open our hearts and minds to the power and influence of the Holy Ghost. The things of God can only be known by the Spirit of God because the things of God are "spiritually discerned."[vii] Those who are not members of the Church can have the influence of the Holy Ghost, and, like a flash of lightning in the pitch-black night, it can illuminate their view with unqualified clarity. However, like the flash of lightning, it is only temporary. On the other hand, those who are members of the Church can not only have the influence of the Holy Ghost but have the gift of the Holy Ghost. Unlike the momentary flash of clarity, those who have been baptized and have received the laying on of hands and have received the Holy Ghost in their life can live their life in the blazing light of the noon-day sun, in that the path back to God is clear.
In verse 7 of the third chapter of John, the Savior continued to instruct the stunned Pharisee and gave some very important instructions about the Holy Ghost. He said,
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it
cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."[viii]
The Savior used a simile; that is, He compared having experiences with the Holy Ghost to the wind. Think about how instructive that is. There are many lessons that can be drawn from that simile. Significantly, one of those lessons is we cannot force the wind. Think about that: We cannot force the wind. The Holy Ghost operates under the direction and will of the Father and the Son. He does not operate under our command, whim, or even righteous desire. We do not command, direct, force, or compel the Holy Ghost. If we try to do any of those things, we open ourselves to deception and counterfeit revelation. Our responsibility is to submit ourselves to the Lord's authorized and true messengers. They will then teach us the truth and administer the ordinances and covenants so that we can receive the companionship of the third member of the Godhead. We can create the environment to invite the testifying, comforting, directing, purifying, and sanctifying power of the gift of the Holy Ghost into our lives.
Years ago, I had an experience that illustrates the need of true prophets and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I met with a pastor from a different church. He wanted to discuss some scriptural questions. This is what I said to him: "Before I can answer your questions, I need to make a statement to you. Here is the statement: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not based on the Bible; it is based on what the Bible is based on: revelation through prophets." He looked stunned. I actually repeated it again: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not based on the Bible; it is based on what the Bible is based on: revelation through prophets." He then asked me, "Is the LDS Church based on the Book of Mormon?" "Nope," I said. "It is based on what the Book of Mormon is based on: revelation through prophets."
Brothers and sisters, if a church claims to be the true church, it cannot be based on the Bible. The members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Former-day Saints (that is, the early Christians) spoken of in the New Testament did not base the early Christian Church on the Bible (they didn't have the Bible; that came later). They had their foundation upon "apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone."[ix] In other words, in order to qualify as the church of the living God, it has to be led by living prophets. Also, to qualify as members of the church of the living God, we must have the living and active power of the gift of the Holy Ghost. Scripturally, it has always been that way; that is the divine pattern!
For example, we don't do temple work for the dead because of certain passages in the New Testament. We do work for the dead because God revealed it to Joseph Smith.[x] Passages in the New Testament might have been a catalyst for the Prophet's thinking about that subject, and they are certainly evidence that the early Christian Church participated in ordinance work for the dead, but that is not the reason why the living Church of Jesus Christ does that work. We do that work because God told us to do it, through His prophets.
With all that said, I emphasize that as Latter-day Saints, we cherish the word of God as contained in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. As President Dallin H. Oaks said: "What makes us different from most other Christians in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation. For us, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation. With Moroni we affirm that he who denieth revelation 'knoweth not the gospel of Christ.'"[xi]
Many of us have had sweet experiences with the enlightening power of living prophets and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I would like to share two stories about the active power of the Holy Ghost in the lives of His people.
In the April 2003 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson shared a story that occurred while he was still working as a heart surgeon. Please note that he was not a member of the Twelve Apostles at the time of this incident; he was simply a faithful member of the Church who had made and kept his covenants. The event happened in the pioneering days of heart surgery, and a man came with hope that Dr. Nelson could repair his heart and save his live. President Nelson said, "Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment." This faithful man then said, "Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need." Dr. Nelson finally agreed to do the operation and said:
In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, "What are you going to do for that?"
I said, "I do not know."
President Nelson continued:
We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. "The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size."
But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed--to make a pleat here and a tuck there--to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image--complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, "It's a miracle."
I responded, "It's an answer to prayer."[xii]
Some of us might be surprised that the Holy Ghost revealed a surgical procedure to Dr. Nelson. But Dr. Nelson and his patient understood the Holy Ghost. They knew that "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."[xiii] When we understand who the Holy Ghost is and what He can do, we are better prepared to invite His power into our lives.
My second example happened in my life when our family was living in Southern California. In our bedroom community of Los Angeles, there was a local movement geared towards targeting and criticizing the Church. I paid little or no attention to it, except that there were members of the ward who were on the receiving end of the antagonism of this group. Finally, it got to the point where we counseled with the stake president and received his support to do a community fireside as a response to this wave of anti-Mormon activity. We again counseled together and decided that we wanted to make this event very powerful. We invited the mayor, the city council, and all of the priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders in our area to this fireside. After the talk that was to be given, we would have a question-and-answer period in an open forum format. Those attending could ask questions about theology, Church history, doctrine, scripture, or any other Church topic. My stake president was wary, as you can imagine, but he agreed. On the evening of the fireside, I arrived about half an hour early, and I could not find a parking space. I was perturbed because I thought that there was another event that had been scheduled. As I met the stake president, I said, "What is going on that there are so many cars?"
He said, "This is going on! You better be good!"
It turned out that there were over 1,300 people who came. Included in that number were the mayor, many of the city council, other leaders from different denominations, and a whole cohort of the group that had been behind the criticism of the Church. There was electricity in the air.
After the talk, the meeting was opened so that people could ask questions. It was very exciting, and the question-and-answer period went on for a fairly lengthy period of time. At a certain point, the stake president indicated for me to take the last question. One of the leaders of that movement targeting the Church asked the last question. He stood up and said something to the effect of "I have definitive evidence that Mormons are not Christians because of this quote"--he had in his hand a quote that he had printed--"that says that unless we accept Joseph Smith we cannot inherit the celestial kingdom. How will you respond to that?"
As I stood there, I had a unique experience. You are familiar with the scripture that states, "Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man."[xiv] I had prepared extensively for this meeting through diligent study, prayer, fasting, and temple attendance. I had tried to treasure up continually the words of life on a daily basis. However, I had never thought about that particular question before, and, truthfully, I had no idea what to say. At that moment a thought came into my mind--not my thought--that essentially said, "I will take this question." So I want you to know that the answer that I gave was not from me; it was not because of me, but it was "given [me] in the very hour" that which was needed.
I asked this man if he would answer a question, and he agreed. (Now remember, this is in front of over a thousand people). I said, to the best of my recollection: "Imagine you are living in a.d. 33-34, and it is the day of Pentecost, as outlined in Acts chapter 2. Peter is testifying with power and authority that Jesus was the Christ, saying, 'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.'[xv] Now, sir, here is the question: If you had been living there that day, listening to Peter preach Christ and him crucified, could you have rejected Peter and accepted Christ?" Brothers and sisters, when I said this, it was as if I were standing outside myself, thinking, "That is incredible!" If he had answered, "Yes, I could reject Peter and accept Christ," then you basically can throw out the Bible. If he answered, "No, I could not reject Peter and accept Christ," then he knew that was where we stood in relation to Joseph Smith. So I said, "Just like you could not reject Peter and accept Christ then, so in the latter-days you cannot reject the modern-day Peter, Joseph Smith, and fully accept Christ."
This event in my life highlights the power of the gift of the Holy Ghost. I want to note, however, that just like I said earlier, the Spirit of the Lord cannot be forced or compelled. It just so happened that on that day, in accordance with the Lord's will and His grace, I was given what to say at the very moment that it was needed. For that I am humbled and extremely grateful.
The last two stories that I shared, the operation performed by President Nelson and the community fireside I participated in, are examples of fairly miraculous and visible manifestations of the gift of the Holy Ghost. I want to point out, however, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, that "revelation is not restricted to the prophet of God on earth. The visions of eternity are not reserved for Apostles--they are not reserved for the General Authorities. Revelation is something that should be received by every individual. God is no respecter of persons, and every soul, in the ultimate sense, is just as precious in his sight as the souls of those who are called to positions of leadership. Because he operates on principles of eternal, universal, and never-deviating law, any individual who abides the law that entitles him to get revelation can know exactly and precisely what [the President of the Church] knows, can entertain angels just as well as Joseph Smith entertained them, and can be in tune in full measure with all of the things of the Spirit."[xvi]
Most often, the Holy Ghost is working and operating in the lives of His covenant people in less-visible but just-as-powerful ways.
My brothers and sisters, my dear friends, the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days truly is a "marvelous work and a wonder"! Last week, we had a living Apostle on this campus. He asked us to ponder our thoughts and feelings that came to our minds and hearts as we listened to the new First Presidency, specifically President Russell M. Nelson. When my wife, Kathleen, and I watched and listened to President Nelson, we had a feeling of overwhelming gratitude and peace. We discussed together how the power of the Spirit touched our hearts and testified of President Nelson's and the new First Presidency's divine calling and appointment.
I invite you to look at how you are treating the words of the living prophets and Apostles. I invite you further to seek and qualify for the gift of the Holy Ghost in your life. I testify that there are prophets and Apostles on the earth today who hold the keys that allow the gift of the Holy Ghost to operate on the earth today. Joseph Smith was and is the instrument in the hands of the Lord to bring about the "restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began."[xvii] The Holy Ghost can and does allow us to see that Jesus is the living Christ.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] Clementine Recognitions, I, 3, in Patrol. Graec. I (1208), quoted in Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 9. [ii] Nibley, 10. [iii] History of the Church 4:42; emphasis added. [iv] Numbers 11:29. [v] John 3:2; emphasis added. [vi] John 3:3. [vii] 1 Corinthians 2:14. Also see verse 11. [viii] John 3: 7-8. [ix] Ephesians 2:20. [x] See Doctrine and Covenants 109--110, 127--128, and 138. [xi] Dallin H. Oaks, "Scripture Reading and Revelation," Ensign, Jan. 1995. [xii] Russell M. Nelson, "Sweet Power of Prayer," Ensign, May 2003. [xiii] Moroni 10:5; emphasis added. [xiv] Doctrine and Covenants 84:85. [xv] Acts 2:36. [xvi] Bruce R. McConkie, "How to Get Personal Revelation," New Era, June 1980. [xvii] Acts 3:21.