From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
In the April 1854 general conference of the Church, President Brigham Young called Joseph F. Smith to serve a mission to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). Joseph was just 15 years old. His mother had died not long before, leaving him an orphan. His journal from that period shows that he learned to rely on the Holy Ghost for comfort and guidance.
On 8 February 1856, after speaking to the Hawaiian Saints, he wrote, “A considerable flow of the Spirit was made manifest.” On 19 March 1856, following another speaking assignment, he recorded, “For the first time [the Saints] were brought to tears.” On 30 March he wrote, “I then arose and attempted to speak, but was overcome with tears. … The Saints joined me in a brief and hearty shower of tears.” On 29 June of the same year his entry shows that he was beginning to feel the full power of his ministry: “The spirit of God attended us thro’ the whole day. … I was made to rejoice, for the Spirit bore testimony to me of the work of the Lord.”1
Later, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Joseph F. Smith said: “On my first mission I began to learn something for myself; I had hitherto believed the testimonies of the servants of God whom I had heard converse and preach, as well as the instructions I received from a most kind and affectionate mother, as also what I could comprehend through reading the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible. But in the ministry, where I labored earnestly, I began to comprehend more fully, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what I had read and been taught, and so they became in my mind established facts, of which I was as absolutely certain as I was of my own existence.”2
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
The gift of the Holy Ghost is an abiding witness.
The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, he constitutes the third person in the Trinity, the Godhead. The gift or presentation of the Holy Ghost is the authoritative act of conferring him upon man. The Holy Ghost in person may visit men and will visit those who are worthy and bear witness to their spirit of God and Christ, but may not tarry with them [see D&C 130:22–23].3
“The gift of the Holy Ghost,” is a special blessing sealed upon baptized repentant believers in Jesus Christ, and is “an abiding witness.” The spirit of God may be enjoyed as a temporary influence by which divine light and power come to mankind for special purposes and occasions. But the gift of the Holy Ghost, which … is bestowed in confirmation, is a permanent witness and higher endowment.4
How shall we obtain the Holy Ghost? The method or manner is clearly marked out. We are told to have faith in God, to believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of all who diligently seek him; to repent of our sins, subdue our passions, follies, and improprieties; to be virtuous, honest, and upright in all our dealings one with another, and enter into covenant with God that we will from thenceforth abide in the principles of truth, and observe the commandments which he has given us, then to be baptized for the remission of our sins, by one having authority; and when this ordinance of the gospel is complied with, we may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands of those clothed with the authority of the Priesthood. Thus the Spirit and power of God—the Comforter—may be in us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. He will bear record of the Father, testifying of Jesus, and “take of the things of the Father and reveal them unto us,” confirming our faith, establishing us in the truth, that we shall be no longer tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine; but shall “know of the doctrine” whether it be of God or of man [see Ephesians 4:14; John 7:17].5
The Holy Ghost, who bears record of the Father and the Son, who takes of the things of the Father and shows them unto men, who testifies of Jesus Christ, and of the everliving God, the Father of Jesus Christ, and who bears witness of the truth—this Spirit, this Intelligence, is not given unto all men until they repent of their sins and come into a state of worthiness before the Lord [see 3 Nephi 28:11]. Then they receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands of those who are authorized of God to bestow his blessings upon the heads of the children of men.6
The presentation or “gift” of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment.7
The Holy Ghost is a lamp to light our onward march.
The office of the Holy Ghost is to bear record of Christ, or to testify of him, and confirm the believer in the truth, by bringing to his recollection things that have passed, and showing or revealing to the mind things present and to come. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” [John 14:26.] “He will guide you into all truth.” [John 16:13.]8
It is the duty of Latter-day Saints to teach their children … the necessity of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, which will lead them into all truth, and which will reveal to them things that have passed and things which are to come, and show to them more clearly those things which are present with them, that they may comprehend the truth, and that they may walk in the light as Christ is in the light; that they may have fellowship with him and that his blood may cleanse them from all sin.9
There is a course marked out for us to walk in—it is that strait and narrow path which leads back to the presence of God; the lamp to light our onward march is the Holy Ghost, which we received on or after our new birth. If we falter and turn aside, our lamp will burn dim and finally go out, when lo, the Comforter, the source of revelation, will leave us, and darkness will take its place; then how great will be that darkness! In proportion to the light we possessed will darkness overpower us, and unless a speedy repentance is made the darkness will increase within us until we lose sight of our calling and forget Him who redeemed us and claimed us for his own.10
The office of the Holy Spirit is to enlighten the minds of the people with regard to the things of God, to convince them at the time of their conversion of their having done the will of the Father, and to be in them an abiding testimony as a companion through life, acting as the sure and safe guide into all truth and filling them day by day with joy and gladness, with a disposition to do good to all men, to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong, to be kind and merciful, long suffering and charitable. All who possess this inestimable gift, this pearl of great price, have a continual thirst after righteousness. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit no mortal can walk in the straight and narrow way, being unable to discern right from wrong, the genuine from the counterfeit, so nearly alike can they be made to appear. Therefore it behooves the Latter-day Saints to live pure and upright, in order that this Spirit may abide in them; for it is only possessed on the principle of righteousness. I cannot receive it for you, nor you for me; every one must stand for him or her self, whether of high or humble birth, learned or unlearned, and it is the privilege of all alike to be made partakers of it.11
The Holy Ghost descends only upon the righteous and upon those who are forgiven of their sins. … So long as the Latter-day Saints are content to obey the commandments of God, to appreciate the privileges and blessings which they enjoy in the Church, and will use their time, their substance, in honor to the name of God, to build up Zion, and to establish truth and righteousness in the earth, so long our heavenly Father is bound by his oath and covenant to protect them from every opposing foe, and to help them to overcome every obstacle that can possibly be arrayed against them, or thrown in their pathway; but the moment a community begin to be wrapt up in themselves, become selfish, become engrossed in the temporalities of life, and put their faith in riches, that moment the power of God begins to withdraw from them, and if they repent not the Holy Spirit will depart from them entirely, and they will be left to themselves.12
You who have obeyed the requirements of the everlasting Gospel, and have been chosen out of the world, having received the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, it is your privilege to receive the witness of the Spirit for yourselves; it is your privilege to discern the mind and will of the Father respecting your own welfare, and respecting the final triumph of the work of God.13
Through the power of the Holy Ghost, we are born again.
The Savior said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” [see John 3:5] and that is true today. A man must be born from ignorance into truth, today. … If he is not so born, he is more blind than the one whom Christ healed, for having eyes he sees not, and having ears, hears not.14
That change comes today to every son and daughter of God who repents of his or her sins, who humble themselves before the Lord, and who seek forgiveness and remission of sin by baptism by immersion, by one having authority to administer this sacred ordinance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For it is this new birth that was spoken of by Christ to Nicodemus as absolutely essential that men might see the kingdom of God, and without which no man could enter into the kingdom. Each of us can remember, perhaps, the change that came into our hearts when we were baptized for the remission of our sins. … I speak of the influence and power of the Holy Spirit that I experienced when I had been baptized for the remission of my sins. The feeling that came upon me was that of pure peace, of love and of light. …
Oh! that I could have kept that same spirit and that same earnest desire in my heart every moment of my life from that day to this. Yet many of us who have received that witness, that new birth, that change of heart, while we may have erred in judgment or have made many mistakes, and often perhaps come short of the true standard in our lives, we have repented of the evil, and we have sought from time to time forgiveness at the hand of the Lord; so that until this day the same desire and purpose which pervaded our souls when we were baptized and received a remission of our sins, still holds possession of our hearts, and is still the ruling sentiment and passion of our souls. Though at times we may be stirred to anger, and our wrath move us to say and do things which are not pleasing in the sight of God, yet instantly on regaining our sober senses and recovering from our lapse into the power of darkness, we feel humble, repentant, and to ask forgiveness for the wrong that we have done to ourselves, and perchance to others. The great, earnest, overwhelming desire, which is born of the truth and of the witness of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the people who obey the truth, assumes sway and again takes possession of our souls, to lead us on in the path of duty. This is my testimony and I know it is true.15
The unpardonable sin is to willfully deny and defy the Holy Ghost after having received His witness.
No man can sin against light until he has it; nor against the Holy Ghost, until after he has received it by the gift of God through the appointed channel or way. To sin against the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter, the Witness of the Father and the Son, wilfully denying him and defying him, after having received him, constitutes [the unpardonable sin].16
No man can possibly commit the unpardonable sin in ignorance. A man must be brought to a knowledge of Christ; he must receive a testimony of Christ in his heart, and possess light and power, knowledge and understanding, before he is capable of committing that sin. But when a man turns away from the truth, violates the knowledge that he has received, tramples it under his feet, puts Christ again to open shame, denies His atonement, denies the power of the resurrection, denies the miracles that He has wrought for the salvation of the human family, and says in his heart, “It is not true”, and abides in that denial of the truth, after having received the testimony of the Spirit, he commits the unpardonable sin.17
[Following the Savior’s Crucifixion,] why were [the Apostles] forgetful and seemingly ignorant of all they had been taught by the Savior respecting the objects of his mission to the earth? Because they lacked one important qualification, they had not yet been “endowed with power from on high.” [See Luke 24:49.] They had not yet obtained the gift of the Holy Ghost. …
If the disciples had been endowed with the “gift of the Holy Ghost,” or “with power from on high,” at this time, their course would have been altogether different … , as the sequel abundantly proved. If Peter, who was the chief apostle, had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the power and testimony thereof prior to the terrible night on which he cursed and swore and denied his Lord [see Matthew 26:69–75], the result would have been very different with him, for then he would have sinned against “light and knowledge,” and “against the Holy Ghost,” for which there is no forgiveness. The fact, therefore, that he was forgiven, after bitter tears of repentance, is an evidence that he was without the witness of the Holy Ghost, never having received it. The other disciples or apostles of Christ were precisely in the same condition, and it was not until the evening of the day on which Jesus came out of the grave that he bestowed upon them this inestimable gift [see John 20:22].18
Just before the risen Redeemer left the earth he commanded his disciples to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until they should be endowed with power from on high. They did so, and agreeable to promise, the Comforter came whilst they were met together, filling their hearts with unspeakable joy, insomuch that they spake in tongues and prophesied; and the inspiring influence of this holy being accompanied them in all their ministerial duties, enabling them to perform the great mission to which they had been called by the Savior.19
Saul, of Tarsus, possessing extraordinary intelligence and learning, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the perfect manner of the law, persecuted the Saints unto death, binding and delivering unto prisons both men and women; and when the blood of the Martyr Stephen was shed, Saul stood by keeping the raiment of those who slew him, and consented unto his death. And “he made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.” [Acts 8:3.] And when they were put to death, he gave his voice against them, and he “punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, persecuted them even unto strange cities,” [Acts 26:11] and yet this man committed no unpardonable sin, because he knew not the Holy Ghost.20
If any people on earth are capable of committing the unpardonable sin, you will find them among those who have, or will, come to a knowledge of the truth. … You and I have received the light. We have received the Holy Priesthood. We have received the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and have been brought from death unto life. Therefore, we are now on very safe or on dangerous ground,—dangerous if we are trifling with these sacred things that have been committed to our care. Hence I warn you, my brethren and sisters, especially my brethren, against trifling with your [priesthood]. … If you do, as God lives He will withdraw His Spirit from you, and the time will come when you will be found kicking against the light and knowledge which you have received, and you may become sons of perdition. Therefore, you had better beware lest the second death shall be passed upon you.21
Suggestions for Study
What is the difference between the temporary influence or manifestation of the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost? (See also Moroni 10:4.) How can we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost? What blessings come to us when we honor this gift?
How can the Holy Ghost guide us into all truth? (See John 16:13.) What truths has the Holy Ghost testified of to you?
Why is a lamp a good symbol to represent the Holy Ghost? What can we do to ensure that this lamp burns brightly in our lives?
What can we do to increase the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives? How can we help others understand how the Holy Ghost blesses their lives?
What is the unpardonable sin? What does it mean to trifle with the “sacred things that have been committed to our care”?
Joseph F. Smith Journal, 1856, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; spelling modernized.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 29 Jan. 1878, 1.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 61.
In James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 5:4.
Gospel Doctrine, 59–60.
Gospel Doctrine, 67.
Gospel Doctrine, 60–61.
Gospel Doctrine, 101.
Gospel Doctrine, 291.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 28 Nov. 1876, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 28 Nov. 1876, 1.
Gospel Doctrine, 50–51.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 22 Apr. 1884, 1.
Gospel Doctrine, 97.
Gospel Doctrine, 96–97.
Gospel Doctrine, 434.
Deseret Evening News, 9 Feb. 1895, 9.
Gospel Doctrine, 20–21.
Gospel Doctrine, 92.
Gospel Doctrine, 433–34.
Deseret Evening News, 9 Feb. 1895, 9.