From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
Like the five Church Presidents before him, Joseph F. Smith received much divine guidance to direct the Church and its members. However, during the last months of his life, the veil separating him from God became thinner than ever before. Much of this time was spent in quiet prayer and meditation. On 4 October 1918, just weeks before his death, he said in general conference: “I will not, I dare not, attempt to enter upon many things that are resting upon my mind this morning, and I shall postpone until some future time, the Lord being willing, my attempt to tell you some of the things that are in my mind, and that dwell in my heart. I have not lived alone these five months. I have dwelt in the spirit of prayer, of supplication, of faith and of determination; and I have had my communication with the Spirit of the Lord continuously.”1 It was during this time that he received the vision of the redemption of the dead that became section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
President Smith humbly acknowledged the goodness of God in revealing to him the things he needed to know as he directed the Church: “I fervently believe that God has manifested to me in my present capacity, many glorious things, many principles, and oftentimes more wisdom than is inherent in myself; and I believe that He will continue to do so as long as I am receptive, as long as I am in a position to hear when He speaks, to listen when He calls, and to receive when He gives to me that which He desires.”2
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
We believe in direct revelation from God to man.
We believe … in the principle of direct revelation from God to man.
This is a part of the gospel, but it is not peculiar to this dispensation. It is common in all ages and dispensations of the gospel. The gospel cannot be administered, nor the Church of God continue to exist, without it. Christ is the head of his Church and not man, and the connection can only be maintained upon the principle of direct and continuous revelation. It is not a hereditary principle, it cannot be handed down from father to son, nor from generation to generation, but is a living, vital principle to be enjoyed on certain conditions only, namely—through absolute faith in God and obedience to his laws and commandments. The moment this principle is cut off, that moment the Church is adrift, being severed from its ever-living head. In this condition it cannot continue, but must cease to be the Church of God and, like the ship at sea without captain, compass or rudder, is afloat at the mercy of the storms and the waves of ever contending human passions, and worldly interests, pride and folly, finally to be wrecked upon the strand of priestcraft and superstition.3
It should be understood that the servants of God have the right in their administrations to obtain immediate divine guidance, and thus, in their faith, they couple divine wisdom as the directing force to their labors, and when that is done it must render a people invincible in enterprises they undertake in the service of God.4
I do know that every principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has been revealed through Joseph Smith, the prophet, in these last days is of God and is true, and will stand for ever—that is, on its merit, as to its truth; it can never be overthrown. I know this with all my being. God has made me doubly assured by the presence and influence of His Spirit, and by the inspiration awakened in my soul to love that which is good, and to desire to forsake that which is evil.5
God reveals His will to men as much in our day as at any time in history.
The Latter-day Saints … bear testimony to all the world that God lives and that he reveals his will to men who believe in him and who obey his commandments, as much in our day as at any time in the history of nations. The canon of scripture is not full. God has never revealed at any time that he would cease to speak forever to men. If we are permitted to believe that he has spoken, we must and do believe that he continues to speak, because he is unchangeable. …
What is revelation but the uncovering of new truths, by him who is the fountain of all truth? To say that there is no need of new revelation, is equivalent to saying that we have no need of new truths—a ridiculous assertion. As well, too, might we say that the revelations which Abraham received were sufficient for the prophets; that the revelations given to Enoch were sufficient for Noah, whose mission was to build the ark and preach repentance; or that the words spoken to Moses were sufficient for all time; or that what Abraham received would be ample for his children through all the ages. But not so. Notwithstanding Abraham was favored with great promises, the word of God was not denied to his son Isaac, nor to his grandson Jacob. Why? Because these could not have performed their missions on the word of the Lord alone to their father and to others. And how could the Father of the Faithful have accomplished his work on the instructions received by Noah? Of what personal use were the revelations of prior patriarchs and prophets to Balaam or to Paul? It is true, they were of use as historical truths or lessons, but not sufficient for them individually.
So we moderns stand in need, oh so greatly! of constant revelation, that we individually may fill our missions acceptably to our Father, and that we may the better work out our own salvation; and also that we may know the will of God concerning his Church, his people, and his purposes in regard to the nations. These are a few of the thousand needs that exist for revelation.6
God reveals Himself to the world through the legally appointed channels of the priesthood.
Through Joseph [Smith], … the Lord revealed himself to the world, and through him he chose the first elders of the Church—men who were honest in their hearts; men who he knew would receive the word, and labor in connection with Joseph in this great, important undertaking; and all that have been ordained to the Priesthood, and all that have been appointed to any position whatever in this Church have received their authority and commission through this channel, appointed of God, with Joseph at the head. This is the order, and it could not be otherwise. God will not raise up another prophet and another people to do the work that we have been appointed to do. He will never ignore those who have stood firm and true from the commencement, as it were, of this work, and who are still firm and faithful, inasmuch as they continue faithful to their trust. There is no question in my mind of their ever proving themselves unfaithful, as a body, for if any of them were to become unworthy in his sight, he would remove them out of their place and call others from the ranks to fill their positions.7
The moment a man says he will not submit to the legally constituted authority of the Church, whether it be the teachers, the bishopric, the high council, his quorum, or the First Presidency, and in his heart confirms it and carries it out, that moment he cuts himself off from the privileges and blessings of the Priesthood and Church, and severs himself from the people of God, for he ignores the authority that the Lord has instituted in his Church. These are the men that generally get crotchets [eccentric opinions] in their heads, that get inspiration (from beneath), and that are often so desirous to guide the Church, and to sit in judgment upon the priesthood. 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.8
It has sometimes been sorrowful to see respected members of the Church, men who should know better, allow themselves to become the tools of seductive spirits. … It seems difficult for men to comprehend the workings of the Priesthood, its legitimate authority, its scope and power; and yet by the light of the Spirit it is easily comprehended, but not understanding it, men are easily deceived by seductive spirits that are abroad in the world. They are led to believe that something is wrong, and the next thing that transpires, they find themselves believing that they are chosen specially to set things right. It is very unfortunate for a man to be taken in this snare; for be it understood by the Latter-day Saints that as long as the servants of God are living pure lives, are honoring the Priesthood conferred upon them, and endeavoring to the best of their knowledge to magnify their offices and callings, to which they have been duly chosen by the voice of the people and the priesthood, and sanctioned by the approval of God, so long as the Lord has any communication to make to the children of men, or any instructions to impart to his Church, he will make such communication through the legally appointed channel of the priesthood; he will never go outside of it, as long, at least, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exists in its present form on the earth.
It is not the business of any individual to rise up as a revelator, as a prophet, as a seer, as an inspired man, to give revelation for the guidance of the Church, or to assume to dictate to the presiding authorities of the Church in any part of the world, much less in the midst of Zion, where the organizations of the priesthood are about perfect, where everything is complete, even to the organization of a branch.9
In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense. No person has the right to induce his fellow members of the Church to engage in speculations or take stock in ventures of any kind on the specious [deceptive] claim of Divine revelation or vision or dream, especially when it is in opposition to the voice of recognized authority, local or general. The Lord’s Church “is a house of order” [D&C 132:8]. It is not governed by individual gifts or manifestations, but by the order and power of the Holy Priesthood as sustained by the voice and vote of the Church in its appointed conferences.10
The spirit of revelation can unite the whole human family in the kingdom of God.
If we did act under [the Spirit’s] influence and followed its dictation continually, we would be one, and bickering, strife and selfishness would be laid aside, and we would look after and be as zealous for our neighbor’s as for our own good. But we still see in our midst controversies, differences of thought and opinion, one up and another down, and the same thing regarded in a different light by different persons, etc. Why is this? Because the gospel net has gathered in of every kind, and because we are only children in the school; because we have learned on the first letters, as it were, in the great Gospel plan, and that but imperfectly. And one cause of the diversity in our thoughts and reflections is that some have had greater experience and comprehend the truth more perfectly than others. But does this prove that the gospel we have embraced does not contain those principles necessary to unite all mankind in the truth? No, it does not. What are these great principles that are calculated to unite the whole human family, and to cause them to worship the same God, adhere to the same counsel and be governed by the same voice? They are the principle of revelation, the power of God revealed to His people, the belief in the hearts of the people that it is God’s right to rule and dictate, and that it is not the right of any man to say it shall be thus and so; nor are the people required to obey these principles blindly—without knowledge.12
Let the Saints unite; let them hearken to the voices of the servants of God that are sounded in their ears; let them hearken to their counsels and give heed to the truth.13
Seek to have the fellowship and union of the Holy Ghost. Let this spirit be sought and cherished as diligently within the smallest and humblest family circle as within the membership of the highest organization and quorum. Let it permeate the hearts of the brothers and sisters, the parents and children of the household, as well as the hearts of the First Presidency and Twelve. Let it mellow and soften all differences between members of the Stake Presidencies and the High Councils, as well as between neighbors living in the same ward. Let it unite young and old, male and female, flock and shepherd, people and Priesthood in the bonds of gratitude and forgiveness and love, so that Israel may feel approved of the Lord, and that we may all come before Him with a conscience void of offense before all men. Then there will be no disappointment as to the blessings promised those who sincerely worship Him. The sweet whisperings of the Holy Spirit will be given to them and the treasures of Heaven, the communion of angels, will be added from time to time, for His promise has gone forth and it cannot fail!14
Suggestions for Study
What is revelation? What does it mean to say that revelation is “a living, vital principle”?
What would happen to the Church without direct and continuing revelation?
What is the significance to us that the canon of scripture is not yet full? How can we prepare our hearts to accept further revelation through the appointed channels of the priesthood?
Why was continuing revelation important in the days of such prophets as Noah and Moses? What are the blessings of having a living prophet today? How does the living prophet help us meet the challenges of our day?
Why must revelation for the Church come only through appointed priesthood channels? Although individuals “may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves,” why does this not convey authority to direct others? (See also D&C 42:11.)
In what ways are Church members sometimes deceived in their understanding of priesthood authority? How can members avoid being deceived in this way?
How can members of the Church throughout the world be united as one in purpose and truth? How does the influence of the Holy Ghost enable us to be more unified? Why is it so important that we be one? (See also D&C 38:27.)
In Conference Report, Oct. 1918, 2.
“President Joseph F. Smith on Revelation,” Millennial Star, 6 Apr. 1905, 222.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 104–5.
“President Joseph F. Smith on ‘Mormonism,’” Millennial Star, 19 June 1902, 387–88.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1909, 6.
“Editor’s Table: Modern Revelation,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1902, 805–7; paragraphing added.
Gospel Doctrine, 42.
Gospel Doctrine, 45.
Gospel Doctrine, 40–41.
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 4:285–86.
Deseret News (weekly), 13 Aug. 1884, 466.
Deseret News (weekly), 6 Mar. 1867, 74.
Gospel Doctrine, 261.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 3:244.