Teaching and Learning by the Spirit
“Chapter 6: Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 57
We need the guidance of the Holy Ghost as we learn the gospel and as we teach it to others.
From the Life of Wilford Woodruff
As Elder Wilford Woodruff prepared for a conference in October 1855, he prayed for guidance, asking what he and his brethren should teach the people. In answer to his prayer, he received the following revelation: “Let my servants obtain the Holy Ghost and keep my Spirit with them, and that will instruct them what to teach the people continually; and instruct the people to keep my Spirit with them, and they will be enabled to understand the word of the Lord when it is taught them.” 1
With an abiding testimony of this principle, President Woodruff frequently began his conference addresses by expressing a desire to teach by the power of the Holy Ghost. In addition, he often reminded the Saints of their duty to listen and learn by that same power. He once said, “We are all of us dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord, upon revelation, upon inspiration, upon the Holy Ghost, in order to be qualified to teach the people before whom we are called to speak, and if the Lord does not give me the Holy Spirit this afternoon, I promise you all [that] you will not get much out of Brother Woodruff.” 2
Teachings of Wilford Woodruff
We must teach the gospel only as we are inspired by the Holy Ghost.
I am not capable, nor is any man capable of teaching the children of men and edifying them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ without the Holy Spirit, without revelation, without the inspiration of Almighty God. Therefore, I want the faith of the Latter-day Saints, and also their prayers. I need the Spirit of God to assist me, as does every man who attempts to teach the people the things of the kingdom of heaven. 3
My faith is that no man, in this or any other generation, is able to teach and edify the inhabitants of the earth without the inspiration of the Spirit of God. As a people we have been placed in positions … which have taught, in all our administrations and labors, the necessity of acknowledging the hand of God in all things. We feel this necessity to-day. I know that I am not qualified to teach either the Latter-day Saints or the world without the Spirit of God. I desire this … and also your faith and prayers, that my mind may be led in a channel which may be beneficial to you. In my public teaching I never permit my mind to follow in any channel except that which the Spirit dictates to me, and this is the position we all occupy when we meet with the Saints, or when we go forth to preach the gospel. 4
The Lord said, speaking through Joseph Smith: “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” [D&C 68:4.] Why is this? Because the Holy Ghost is one of the Godhead, and consequently when a man speaks by the Holy Ghost, it is the word of the Lord. We should seek to obtain this Spirit that it may be with us all the time and become a principle of revelation to us. 5
The minds of this people need feeding continually, and we all have to depend upon the Holy Spirit and the Lord to feed our minds from that inexhaustible fountain of intelligence which comes from God, for we cannot obtain food from any other source to feed the immortal mind of man. 6
Man possesses a spirit that must endure forever, a spirit that comes from God, and inasmuch as he is not fed from that same source or power that created him he is not and cannot be satisfied. 7
If we do not have the Holy Ghost we have no business to teach. 8
As we teach the gospel, we must remember that the plainest and most simple truths are the most edifying.
The revelations of Jesus Christ teach us that the Savior was born in the flesh, and the Father said that he did not give him a fulness at first but continued from grace to grace until he had received a fulness and was called the Son of God because he did not receive a fulness at first [see D&C 93:12–14]; we in like manner should seek with all our souls to grow in grace, light and truth, that in due time we may receive a fulness [see D&C 93:20].
The Lord has a great many principles in store for us, and the greatest principles which he has for us are the most simple and plain. The first principles of the gospel which lead us unto eternal life are the simplest and yet none are more glorious or important unto us. Men may labor to make a great display of talent, learning and knowledge either in printing or preaching, they may try to preach the mysteries and to present something strange, great and wonderful, and they may labor for this with all their might, in the spirit and strength of man without the aid of the Holy Spirit of God and yet the people are not edified and their preaching will not give much satisfaction. It is the plainest and the most simple things that edify us the most, if taught by the Spirit of God, and there is nothing more important or beneficial unto us. If we have that Spirit dwelling with us, if it abides with us continually, enlightening our minds by day and by night—we are in the safe path. 9
I wish to say that in my acquaintance in this Church, I have seen men, from time to time rise up and try to be servants of God. They try to explain things they know nothing about, to make themselves appear clever. There is a great deal of this kind of thing in this age. There was one of the leading Elders of the Church who went before the people and undertook to preach certain principles. Joseph heard of it and desired him to present the doctrine to him in writing. He wrote it, and when he completed it read it to the Prophet. He asked Joseph what he thought of it. “Why,” said Joseph, “it is a beautiful system, I have but one fault to find with it—” “What is that, Brother Joseph?” Joseph said—“It is not true.” So I say, every little while someone, thinking he is smart, tries to teach something that is not in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church works, and which is not true. …
… Preach the truth as you understand it. Do not speculate on things you know nothing about, for it will benefit no one. If you listen to false doctrine you will be led away by false spirits. Remember and observe this, and you will be all right. Keep in the paths of truth, and all will be well with you. 10
When we meet to learn the gospel, we need the Spirit as much as the teacher does.
I trust that the Spirit of God may be with not only those who speak and teach … , but with those also who sit and hear. 11
We all need the inspiration of the Almighty … , whether we preach or listen. 12
I say to my brethren and sisters, let us try and prepare our minds and hearts by prayer before the Lord, that we may obtain enough of the light of the Spirit and of the influence of the Holy Ghost, to see and be preserved in the path of life, and when we receive the teachings and counsels of the servants of God, that we may be disposed to treasure them up in our hearts and practice them in our lives. 13
If we have that portion of the Spirit of God which it is our privilege to enjoy, and magnify our calling, we shall have that testimony we ought to have within us when any new doctrine is brought forth, or old doctrine more fully explained. In this way we shall profit by the preaching of our brethren, and be able to treasure up the principles of eternal life. 14
I hope and pray that while we assemble together we may enjoy the Spirit of God and our hearts be united together as the heart of one man; that our prayers may be drawn out before the Lord, that His blessings may be with us and that those who speak to us may do so by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and the power of God. 15
We should give [the teacher] our attention, prayers and faith, and if we do this we shall receive out of the abundance of his heart those things which will benefit us. 16
When any of the Presidency of this Church, or of the Quorum of the Twelve, or any of the Elders rise … to speak, this people look unto them, and expect they will enjoy the Holy Spirit sufficiently to say something that will edify them; the people almost unanimously look for this. I will say on the other hand that the Presidency, the Twelve, and the Elders … expect that the people will [also] have the Spirit of the Lord that they may come to understanding, and this is just as much required, that they may comprehend what is said unto them as much as it is required of the brethren who speak to teach doctrine, principle, truth and the revelations of Jesus Christ.
When the minds of the people are quickened, and enlightened by the power of God and the gift of the Holy Ghost that they can appreciate and prize the principles of eternal truth and the revelations which God has given … then they are prepared to be benefited by those blessings which are poured out upon them. Any of you that have experienced this blessing, and I presume that all have at times, have been astonished at certain periods of their lives that there has been such a difference in their minds. I know this is the case with myself and I presume it is with others.
There [have] been times that the vision of my mind has been opened to comprehend the word of God and the teachings of his servants.—The vision of my mind has been open and quickened by the power of God and the gift of the Holy Ghost. So that when I have sat here and heard the Presidency, and the servants of God teach the principle of righteousness, and the word of God unto us, I have felt the force, the power and the importance of these eternal truths which they have presented unto our minds, while at other times the same truths may have been taught, but they have passed off without making the same impression upon my mind.
… I consider it important that we labor to obtain that Spirit, to have it increased upon us and carry it with us that when we hear teaching our minds may be prepared to receive it. …
I will now say that inasmuch as many of us have received the gospel and gathered with the Saints of God, it is important that we labor to-day, that we live under the influence of that Spirit that it may continue to increase and to govern us in our acts among the children of men.—Now when a man has the Holy Spirit and hears the plain, simple truths of salvation they appear more valuable than all else besides, and he is ready to sacrifice everything of a temporal nature to secure to himself salvation, but when people’s minds become darkened, they lose the Holy Spirit and the value of that gospel, and they do not realize the privilege and the honor of being associated with the Saints of God … , neither do they maintain their allegiance to their Heavenly Father, and honor his name upon the earth or prize their associations with those that bear the holy priesthood, and therefore they go into darkness. … We marvel and wonder when we are enlightened by the Spirit of God and the revelations which he has given unto us, and when we are aroused to a sense of the importance of these things we then see the effect and the bearing they will have upon us, not only the fitting of our minds to go into the world of spirits, but to prepare us to meet with our Father in Heaven. 17
Suggestions for Study and Teaching
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
• Read President Woodruff’s statements in the first two paragraphs of this chapter (page 57). What insights do these statements provide about him? What insights do they provide about teaching and learning?
• What do you learn from President Woodruff’s words about teaching by the power of the Spirit? (See pages 57, 59; see also 2 Nephi 33:1–2.) How can we prepare to receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost when we teach?
• What experiences have you had with teaching and learning by the Spirit?
• Review the section that begins on page 60. Why is it dangerous to speculate about things we do not understand? Why are we edified most by plain and simple truths?
• What are some duties of learners? (See pages 61–64.) How can we get the greatest benefit from a gospel lesson or sermon? Ponder or discuss ways you can prepare to be taught by the Spirit.
• Review the first paragraph on page 62. In your experiences with teaching the gospel, how have you benefited from the “attention, prayers and faith” of those you have taught?
• How can the principles in this chapter help us in our study of this book? (See also pages v–ix.) How do these principles apply as we learn and teach the gospel in our homes?
1. Journal of Wilford Woodruff, October 19, 1855, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.