From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith, in company with Bishop Charles W. Nibley, was returning home by train from a trip to the east. Near Green River, Wyoming, he had just stepped out onto the platform at the end of the car when he heard a voice that said, “Go in and sit down.” He went back into the train, hesitated a moment, and then said to himself, “Oh, pshaw, perhaps it is only my imagination.” He then heard the voice say again, “Sit down.” Responding immediately, President Smith took his seat. Just then the train lurched as a broken rail caused the engine and most of the cars to be thrown from the track. Bishop Nibley said that if President Smith had not acted as he did, he would have been seriously injured, for although his car remained on the track, all of the cars were “jammed up together pretty badly.”
President Smith said of this experience, “I have heard that voice a good many times in my life, and I have always profited by obeying it.”
“[President Smith] lived in close communion with the Spirit of the Lord,” observed Bishop Nibley, “and his life was so exemplary and chaste that the Lord could easily manifest himself to his servant. Truly he could say, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.’ [1 Samuel 3:9.] … The heart of President Smith was attuned to the Celestial melodies—he could hear, and did hear.”1
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
All Church members have the right to receive personal guidance from the Holy Ghost.
The spirit of inspiration, the gift of revelation, does not belong to one man solely; it is not a gift that pertains to the Presidency of the Church and the Twelve apostles alone. It is not confined to the presiding authorities of the Church, it belongs to every individual member of the Church; and it is the right and privilege of every man, every woman, and every child who has reached the years of accountability, to enjoy the spirit of revelation, and to be possessed of the spirit of inspiration in the discharge of their duties as members of the Church.2
Every individual in the Church has just as much right to enjoy the spirit of revelation and the understanding from God which that spirit of revelation gives him, for his own good, as the bishop has to enable him to preside over his ward. 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, and in the management of his farm, his flocks, his herds, and in the management of his business … ; it is his right to enjoy the spirit of revelation and of inspiration to do the right thing, to be wise and prudent, just and good in everything that he does. I know that this is a true principle.3
It is the right of individuals to be inspired and to receive manifestations of the Holy Spirit for their personal guidance to strengthen their faith, and to encourage them in works of righteousness, in being faithful and observing and keeping the commandments which God has given unto them; it is the privilege of every man and woman to receive revelation to this end, but not further. The moment an individual rises up assuming the right to control and to dictate, or to sit in judgment on his brethren, especially upon those who preside, he should be promptly checked, or discord, division and confusion will be the result. Every man and woman in this Church should know better than to yield to such a spirit.4
We should live so near to the Lord, be so humble in our spirits, so tractable and pliable, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, that we will be able to know the mind and will of the Father concerning us as individuals and as officers in the Church of Christ under all circumstances.5
We should … ever live so that the Holy Ghost may be within us as a living spring, calculated to lead us to perfection in righteousness, virtue and integrity before God, until we accomplish our earthly mission, performing every duty that may be required at our hands.6
Revelation comes to us most often through the still, small voice of the Spirit.
It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God. When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony. But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little [see 2 Nephi 28:30], until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel. By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess. And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth that will stay with them, and it will make them to know the truth, as God knows it, and to do the will of the Father as Christ does it. And no amount of marvelous manifestations will ever accomplish this.7
You need never fear, my brethren and sisters, if you do not receive any very great or marvelous manifestation, or if you do not receive any very wonderful revelations from heaven, if you will only live so that God can reveal Himself to you if He will. You will be all right, you will have nothing to fear, you will have nothing lacking, so far as you are concerned, if you are in a position to receive the will of God whenever He is ready or desires to make it manifest to you. That is enough. And then God will only reveal to you that which is necessary for your development, for your growth and advancement in the knowledge of the truth.8
Let us do what the Spirit directs.
I do not feel either physically or mentally able to perform the duties which are required of me without the assistance of the Spirit of the Lord. I do not know that any man is able to carry on the work of the Lord which may be required at his hand, independently of the Lord, or without the promptings and inspiration of the Spirit which comes from the Father of Light.9
When we live so that we can hear and understand the whisperings of the still, small voice of the Spirit of God, let us do whatsoever that Spirit directs without fear of the consequences. It does not make any difference whether it meet the minds of carpers or critics, or of the enemies of the kingdom of God, or not. Is it agreeable to the will of the Lord? Is it compatible with the spirit of the great latter-day work in which we are engaged? Is the end aimed at likely to advance the Church and to strengthen it in the earth? If its trend is in that direction, let us do it, no matter what men may say or think.10
It will not do for us to be content and satisfied with the mere knowledge of that which is right. Knowing that which is right, we must go to and do the right thing, whatever it might be, whatever [Jesus Christ] requires of us. If we know the right, if we know the truth, we must abide by the right and in the truth, and we must do the right thing, always, under all circumstances, and never yield to the tempter or deviate from the right way, the straight and narrow path that leads back into the presence of God.11
[Our] obedience must be voluntary; it must not be forced, there must be no coercion. Men must not be constrained against their will to obey the will of God; they must obey it because they know it to be right, because they desire to do it, and because it is their pleasure to do it. God delights in the willing heart.12
By yielding obedience to the Spirit, we gain greater knowledge and grow in the power of discernment.
Man is indebted to the Source of all intelligence and truth, for the knowledge that he possesses; and all who will yield obedience to the promptings of the Spirit, which lead to virtue, to honor, to the love of God and man, and to the love of truth and that which is ennobling and enlarging to the soul, will get a cleaner, a more expansive, and a more direct and conclusive knowledge of God’s truths than anyone else can obtain.13
Men and women should become settled in the truth, and founded in the knowledge of the gospel, depending upon no person for borrowed or reflected light, but trusting only upon the Holy Spirit, who is ever the same, shining forever and testifying to the individual and the priesthood, who live in harmony with the laws of the gospel, of the glory and the will of the Father. They will then have light everlasting which cannot be obscured.14
The only safe way for us to do, as individuals, is to live so humbly, so righteously and so faithfully before God that we may possess his Spirit to that extent that we shall be able to judge righteously, and discern between truth and error, between right and wrong.15
How shall we know that [the counsel we receive from Church leaders] is right? By getting the Spirit of God in our hearts, by which our minds may be opened and enlightened, that we may know the doctrine for ourselves, and be able to divide truth from error, light from darkness and good from evil.16
To the faithful Latter-day Saint is given the right to know the truth, as God knows it; and no power beneath the celestial kingdom can lead him astray, darken his understanding, becloud his mind or dim his faith or his knowledge of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It can’t be done, for the light of God shines brighter than the illumination of a falsehood and error; therefore, those who possess the light of Christ, the spirit of revelation and the knowledge of God, rise above all these vagaries in the world; they know of this doctrine, that it is of God and not of man.17
When we live up to what has been revealed, the Lord will add to our light and intelligence.
There are many things yet to be revealed. There are things to be revealed which God will make known in his own due time which we do not now understand. For my own part, there is as much already revealed as it seems possible for me to understand. If I could only grasp all that God has revealed, and comprehend it as I should and apply it in righteousness in my life, I think I should then be prepared for something more, if I was still worthy of it. Why, bless your souls, there are people among us that are worrying and fretting over things that have never been revealed to the children of men. … If men would pay their tithing, if they would keep the word of wisdom, if they would say their prayers, if they would devote their lives to works of righteousness in the earth and study the gospel for themselves and obey it, they would have less necessity for asking questions, and don’t forget the fact that they would know things better than they do.18
We know nothing, and we will preach nothing to the people except that which the Lord God has revealed, and we advise and counsel those who are in authority, and whose duty and business it is to teach and preach the principles of the gospel to the world and to the Latter-day Saints, to confine their teachings and their instructions to the word of God that has been revealed. There is a great deal that has been revealed that has not yet been lived up to, I assure you. There is a great deal yet remaining to be learned. There is a great deal that is yet to be taught in the spirit of instruction, and there is a great deal that has been revealed through the Prophet Joseph and his associates that the people have not yet received in their hearts, and have not yet become converted to as they should.
When we obey and are capable of observing the precepts of the gospel and the laws of God and the requirements of heaven, which have already been revealed, we will be far better off and nearer the goal of perfection in wisdom, knowledge and power than we are today. When that time comes, then there are other things still greater yet to be revealed to the people of God. Until we do our duty, however, in that which we have received, until we are faithful over the things that are now committed into our hands, until we live our religion as we have it now, as the Lord has given it to us, to add commandments, to add light and intelligence to us over that which we have already received, which we have not yet fully obeyed, would be to add condemnation upon our heads. It is enough for us to live in the light of present inspiration and present revelation and for each individual member of the Church to keep the commandments of the Lord and labor in the Church as the Spirit may give him and her guidance in the performance of duty. Every soul of us is entitled to inspiration from God to know what is our duty and how we are to do it.19
The thing for us to do is to live according to the light and intelligence that God has revealed to us in this dispensation, that we may be in harmony with the heavenly powers and with heavenly beings, and especially with our Lord Jesus Christ who stands at our head, who is our lawgiver, our exemplar, and the way of life and salvation to all the world; through whom we may enter into the celestial Kingdom of God, and without whom we can never enter that state of glory worlds without end. He is the way, the light and life of the world; and who soever will obey the commandments He has given, and do the works which He has done, and commanded us to do, shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have in them the light of life.20
Suggestions for Study
To whom is the “spirit of revelation” available?
In what areas of our lives might we enjoy the personal guidance of the Spirit?
Why do you think God guides us most often through the still, small voice of the Spirit rather than by “marvelous manifestations”? (See also 1 Kings 19:11–12.) In what ways does God guide us by the still, small voice?
Why are we not coerced to follow the promptings of the Spirit? Why do you think that God “delights in the willing heart”?
How must we live to be able to receive the guidance of the Spirit? What inhibits our ability to receive the promptings of the Spirit?
When has the Spirit helped you expand your knowledge of God’s truths?
What blessings come to those who trust in the promptings of the Holy Spirit rather than depending on “borrowed or reflected light”?
How can we prepare ourselves to receive more light and intelligence? (See also Alma 12:10.)
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 523–24.
Gospel Doctrine, 34.
Gospel Doctrine, 34–35.
Gospel Doctrine, 41–42.
Gospel Doctrine, 58–59.
Gospel Doctrine, 60.
Gospel Doctrine, 7.
“President Joseph F. Smith on Revelation,” Millennial Star, 6 Apr. 1905, 222.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1912, 2.
Gospel Doctrine, 59.
“Testimony,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1906, 808.
Gospel Doctrine, 65.
Gospel Doctrine, 6.
Gospel Doctrine, 87.
Gospel Doctrine, 45.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 3 Jan. 1893, 2.
Gospel Doctrine, 6.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1916, 6–7.
Gospel Doctrine, 35–36; paragraphing added.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 31 Jan. 1882, 2.