Harold Bingham Lee, the Eleventh President of the Church, was born 28 March 1899, at Clifton, Idaho, the son of Samuel Marion Lee and Louisa Emeline Bingham. His first general Church assignment was to establish the welfare program in 1936 and he had served as a stake president. He was ordained an Apostle 10 April 1941 by President Heber J. Grant and was sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles 23 January 1970. Also on 23 January 1970, he became First Counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith, at the age of seventy. President Lee was sustained as President of the Church 7 July 1972, at the age of seventy-three. He died 26 December 1973 in Salt Lake City at the age of 74.
Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve once told of a discussion he had with a group of stake officers. In the course of the discussion someone said to him, “Brother Widtsoe, how long has it been since the Church received a revelation?” Brother Widtsoe rubbed his chin thoughtfully and said in reply, “Oh, probably since last Thursday.” Brother Widtsoe undoubtedly referred to the meeting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve that is held on each Thursday.
Through the scriptures this phrase is often repeated: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 11:15.) All of us are not so blessed to hear all that we ought to hear.
There was an occasion, just before the crucifixion when the Master was in the temple, and the Greeks came among the people, apparently anxious to see Him because He had gained such notoriety. There, in that place sacred in Him, the Master kneeled down and prayed, asking the Lord to let this hour pass, and then He said, “Father, glorify thy name.” The answer came, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:28.) There were some people who heard it and said that it had thundered; there were a few who said an angel of the Lord had spoken to Him. You see, there were some who had ears to hear, but they didn’t hear.
You will recall the occasion when the Apostle Paul was converted; he was on his way to Damascus with writs of authority to further persecute the saints at that place. Remember how he was stricken down by a bright light that overshadowed him and blinded him, and a voice spoke out of heaven and said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4.) And Paul, in telling about the incident, says, “And they that were with me, saw indeed the light … but they heard not the voice of him that spoke to me.” (Acts 22:9.) These also had ears to hear but they heard nothing.
Some of us fail to live so that we can understand the message that comes from eternity when God speaks, but if each of us could commit ourselves to obey God’s commandments and live as we should, a wonderful change would be effected in us, and we could then hear the messages from the unseen world.
I had that illustrated some years ago when I served as a stake president. We had a very grievous case that had to come before the high council and the stake presidency that resulted in the excommunication of a man who had harmed a lovely young girl. After a nearly all-night session that resulted in that action, I went to my office rather weary the next morning and was confronted by a brother of this man whom we had on trial the night before. This man said, “I want to tell you that my brother wasn’t guilty of what you charged him with.”
“How do you know he wasn’t guilty?” I asked.
“Because I prayed, and the Lord told me he was innocent,” the man answered.
I asked him to come into the office and we sat down, and I asked, “Would you mind if I ask you a few personal questions?”
He said, “Certainly not.”
“How old are you?”
“What priesthood do you hold?”
He said he thought he was a teacher.
“Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?”
“Well, no.” He used tobacco, which was obvious.
“Do you pay your tithing?”
He said, “No”—and he didn’t intend to as long as that terrible man was the bishop of the ward.
I said, “Do you attend your priesthood meetings?”
He replied, “No, sir!” and he didn’t intend to as long as that man was bishop.
“You don’t attend your sacrament meetings either?”
“Do you have your family prayers?” and he said, “No.”
“Do you study the scriptures?” He said his eyes were bad, and he couldn’t read very much.
I then said to him: “In my home I have a beautiful instrument called a radio. When everything is functioning properly we can dial it to a certain station and hear the voice of a speaker on the other side of the world, but after we have used it for a long time the radio tubes begin to wear out. The radio may sit there looking just like it did before, but because of what has happened on the inside, we can hear nothing.
“Now,” I said, “you and I have within our souls something like what might be said to be a counterpart of those radio tubes. We might have what we call a ‘go-to-sacrament-meeting’ tube, a ‘keep-the-Word-of-Wisdom’ tube, a ‘pay-your-tithing’ tube, a ‘have-your-family-prayers’ tube, a ‘read-the-scriptures’ tube, and, as one of the most important—one that might be said to be the master tube of our whole soul—we have what we might call the ‘keep-yourselves-morally-clean’ tube. If one of these becomes worn out by disuse or inactivity—if we fail to keep the commandments of God—it has the same effect upon our spiritual selves that a worn-out tube has in a radio.
“Now, then,” I said, “fifteen righteous men living in the stake prayed last night. They heard the evidence and every man was united in saying that your brother was guilty. Now you, who do none of these things, you say you prayed and got an opposite answer. How would you explain that?”
Then this man gave an answer that I think was a classic. He said, “Well, President Lee, I think I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source.” And, you know, that’s just as great a truth as we can have. We get our answers from the source of the power we tend to obey. If we are following the ways of the devil, we will get answers from the devil. If we are keeping the commandments of God, we will get our answer from God.
I listened to an inspired sermon at Brigham Young University by President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., who analyzed the various kinds of revelation that come. He talked first of a theophany, which he defined as an experience where the Father or the Son or both put in a personal appearance, or speak directly to man. Moses talked with the Lord face to face; Daniel had a theophany, or personal appearance. When the Master came to John the Baptist for baptism, you remember, a voice spoke out of the heavens and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). At the conversion of Paul, to which I have made reference, there was also a personal appearance, and an audible voice was heard. At the transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John went with the Master to a high mountain where Moses and Elias appeared before them, again a voice was heard speaking out of the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 17:5).
Perhaps the greatest of all theophanies of our time was the appearance of the Father and the Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the grove. Following that there were several appearances, one of which is recorded in the 110th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, when the Savior appeared to Joseph and Oliver.
I have a believing heart that started with a simple testimony that came when I was a child. I was with my father out on a farm away from our home, trying to find things to do until my father was ready to go home. Over the fence from our place were some old sheds that would attract a curious boy, and I was adventurous. I started to climb through the fence, and I heard a voice calling me by name and saying, “Don’t go over there!” I turned to look at my father to see if he were talking to me, but he was far away at the other end of the field. There was no person in sight. I realized then, as a child, that there were persons beyond my sight, for I had definitely heard a voice.
Another way by which we receive revelation was spoken of by the Prophet Enos. He writes this very significant statement in his record in the Book of Mormon: “And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10).
In other words, sometimes we hear the voice of the Lord coming into our minds, and when it comes, the impressions are just as strong as though He were sounding a trumpet in our ears.
May I bear humble testimony to that fact? I was once in a situation where I needed help. The Lord knew I needed help, as I was on an important mission. I was awakened in the early hours of the morning and was corrected on something that I had planned to do in a contrary way, and the way was clearly defined before me as I lay there that morning, just as surely as though someone had sat on the edge of my bed and told me what to do.
We as individual members of the Church may receive personal revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early days of the Church, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (D&C 8:2–3). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section 6, sub-heading 64, paragraph 2, p. 328.)
May I change that about and give it emphasis to the Latter-day Saints and say, any Latter-day Saint who has been baptized and who has had hands laid upon him from those officiating, commanding him to receive the Holy Ghost, and who has not received a revelation of the spirit of the Holy Ghost, has not received the gift of the Holy Ghost to which he is entitled. Therein lies a very important matter. Let me refer to what the Prophet Joseph Smith said about revelation:
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation, for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; that is, those things that were presented into your minds by the Spirit of God will come to pass, and thus learning by the spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section 3, subheading 2 from the end, p. 151.)
On what matters may you receive a revelation? Is it startling to you to hear that you—all members of the Church who have received the Holy Ghost—may receive revelation? Not for the president of the Church, not about how to look after the affairs pertaining to the ward, the stake, or the mission in which you live; but every individual within his own area of responsibility has the right to receive revelation by the Holy Ghost.
Every man has the privilege to exercise these gifts and these privileges in the conduct of his own affairs, in bringing up his children in the way they should go, in the management of his business, or whatever he does. It is his right to enjoy the spirit of revelation and of inspiration to do the right things, to be wise and prudent, just and good, in everything that he does. I know that this is a true principle and that is the thing that I would like the Latter-day Saints to know. Now then, all of us should try to strive and listen to and obey the sudden ideas that come to us, and if we’ll obey them and develop the ability to hear these promptings we too—each of us—can grow in the spirit of revelation.
Now there’s one more way by which revelations may come, and that is by dreams. Oh, I’m not going to tell you that every dream you have is a direct revelation from the Lord, but I fear that there are those of us who are prone to disregard all and say they have no purpose. And yet all through the scriptures there were recorded incidents where the Lord, by dreams, has directed His people.
Let us see what Parley P. Pratt said about this matter:
“In all ages and dispensations God has revealed many important instructions and warnings to men by means of dreams. When the conscious mind and physical senses are released from their activity, the nerves relaxed, and mankind lies asleep, it is then that the spiritual senses are at liberty in a certain degree to assume their functions, to recall some faint outline, some confused and half-defined recollections of that heavenly world, and those endearing scenes of their former estate. Their kindred spirits then hover about them with the fondest affection, the most anxious solicitude. Spirit communes with spirit, thought meets thought, soul blends with soul, in all the raptures of mutual, pure, and eternal love. In this situation the spiritual organs (and if we could see our spirits, we would know that they have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to speak, and so on) may converse with deity, or have communion with angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.” If we will learn not to be so sophisticated that we disregard that possibility of impressions from those who are beyond sight, then we too may have a dream that may direct us as a revelation.
The revelations of God are the standards by which we measure all learning, and if anything does not agree with the revelations, then we may be certain that it is not truth.
I come to you as one who sits in the company of men who live close to their Heavenly Father. I have seen matters come before the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve in our weekly meetings on which decisions have been reached that were not based upon reasoning, but were based upon an impression which, after that decision had been made, has been found to have been a heaven-sent direction to protect and to guide.
After an important decision has been made, it has been a thrilling thing to hear the president of the Church say, “Brethren, the Lord has spoken.”
The thing that all of us should strive for is to so live, keeping the commandments of the Lord, that He can answer our prayers. If we will live worthy, then the Lord will guide us—by a personal appearance, or by His actual voice, or by His voice coming into our mind, or by impressions upon our heart and our soul. And oh, how grateful we ought to be if the Lord sends us a dream in which is revealed to us the beauties of the eternity or a warning and direction for our special comfort. Yes, if we so live, the Lord will guide us for our salvation and for our benefit.
I want to bear you my humble testimony that I have received by the voice and the power of revelation the knowledge and an understanding that God is.
It was a week following a conference, when I was preparing a radio talk on the life of the Savior and read again the story of His life, crucifixion, and resurrection, that there came to me a testimony, a reality of Him. It was more than just what was on the written page, for in truth, I found myself viewing the scenes with as much certainty as though I had been there in person. I know that these things come by the revelations of the living God.
I bear you my solemn testimony that the Church today is guided by revelation. Every soul in it who has been blessed to receive the Holy Ghost has the power to receive revelation. God help you and me that we will always so live that the Lord can answer the prayers of the faithful through us.