Joseph F. Smith, a modern day prophet in the early 1900s, made a simple statement concerning the belief of our church in revelation. He stated, “We believe… in the principle of direct revelation from God to man.”1 It sounds simple – there is a truth or principle that involves God communicating to man, and we believe in it.
But there is much disagreement in the world concerning this principle. In fact, I think you could very well divide out every church based on how it chooses define revelation. What is this principle of revelation? What is revelation? What teachings are included in it? Does such a supreme being exist to give revelation? Does that being have sufficient interest in the human family to warrant giving revelation? Does that interest include love and concern for the welfare of the human family? There is a string of questions covering just about every other principle of the gospel leading from how one defines this principle of revelation. Elder Smith didn’t attempt to answer all of these questions – he simply asserted that we believe in the TRUE definition and content of revelation.
He knew, for a fact, that revelation happened because he was a prophet chosen by God to represent Him on this earth and lead His church. He knew not through scripture reading or studying Greek and Hebrew, but through actually receiving revelation. It is interesting that the only way to know of yourself if revelation is a true principle today is to receive personal revelation.
Those who have questioned the principle of modern-day revelation and then actively sought an answer through in faith in Christ, study, and prayer, can witness to the frustration sometimes involved. But, more importantly, if they have endured and received that answer they have learned much more. They then know for a fact that a loving Heavenly Father exists and he speaks to His children today. This is revelation.
What is Revelation?
Revelation expresses an uncovering or a disclosure of that which had before been wholly or partly hidden – the drawing aside of a veil – the making known of a divine truth by communication from the heavens. Revelation is NOT the â€˜creation’ of truth. Revelation is simply the Fountain of All Truth uncovering part of what is real.
Revelation is an integral part of not only obtaining our potential to return and live with our Heavenly Father, but it is essential to know that we even have that potential and by what means we can obtain that potential. If you compare our lives here on earth to a race, it would be silly to expect any contestants to finish if they didn’t know how to run, or where to run, or even if there was a race to finish… Without revelation from our Maker, we are similarly left in the dark, wandering without knowing our purpose. We can read of past â€˜races’ and learn valuable lessons, but what about today? Do I compete in this race the same way those in past races have? Do they even have races to compete in anymore?
Importance of Modern Revelation
While the Christian world may agree as to the existence of revelations in times past, modern day revelations are consistently challenged and denied.
Latter-day Saints bear testimony to the world that God lives and that he reveals His will to those who believe in Him and obey His commandments, as much in our day as at any time in history.
Joseph F. Smith, taught the following concerning modern day revelation:
“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 continued revelation. It… 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…”2
Simply put, God’s Church cannot exist without revelation from Him. What is God’s Church – but an organization He sets up through revelation to teach His people of His will for them? Any church not based on this principle, while teaching good and important truths, would not be God’s Church but man’s church. God’s church is the church HE sets up to lead us to him, not the church WE set up to try and get back to Him.
Famous examples of churches gone astray because they are not based on continuing revelation from God are rampant in the scriptures. In the Book of Mormon, the Zoramites erect towers on which they would praise themselves and their chosen status all the while rejecting the existence of a Savior. They were acknowledging God and doing what they thought would qualify them to live with Him again. In the Old Testament, people built the Tower of Babel in an attempt to climb to heaven. They also acknowledged God and they worked really hard to do what they thought would lead them back to Him. In the New Testament, the Jews followed their church’s teachings to the letter, their motivation being to get back to God. All three groups were doing the wrong things while claiming a righteous goal. The cause? They refused to accept modern day revelation. Instead of seeking out the church that God established to lead them back to Him, they sought to establish their own church and follow their own methods. Through God’s recorded reactions to all three situations, it is obvious this is NOT the way he wants things to work. It must be frustrating for our Heavenly Father to establish a plan for us to learn of truth and return to Him, only to have us pick another way all the while claiming that we are doing it because we want to please Him.
Any person who denies the need for continuing revelation is making a gross over-estimate on the amount of knowledge and light that we have concerning God’s will for us. In effect, they are saying they don’t need any more truth – which is ridiculous. Are they aspiring to instruct God on what truths need to be revealed and when? It may sound outlandish, but when anyone denies modern day revelation, a similar claim is being made.
On the American Continent just six years before the birth of Christ, a Book of Mormon prophet taught concerning this same principle:
“Yea, wo unto this people, because of this time which has arrived, that ye do cast out the prophets, and do mock them, and cast stones at them, and do slay them, and do all manner of iniquity unto them, even as they did of old time. And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out. Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.”3
This is the state of mind that the people of the world have. People in the times of Christ read the scriptures they then had and were almost certainly ashamed as they read of the stubbornness and pride of the Israelites being led out of Egypt. They must have thought to themselves, “Those fools! They survived multiple plagues through the grace of God, witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, got free food outside their tents every non-sabbath morning, saw water come forth from a rock, and then they choose to die rather than follow their living prophet, look at the raised serpent staff and live?! What were they thinking?”
I know what they were thinking. The people in Moses’ time were thinking the same thing the scoffing readers in Christ’s time were thinking as they stoned the prophets, persecuted the saints, and continually rejected Christ. The world learns easily to accept the teachings of ancient prophets, but has always met the truth of continued revelation from God with skepticism and disbelief. Thus, the unbelievers in Christ’s time look back and find it difficult to understand how the people of Moses could be so blind, just as we look back and think the same thing of them. This is ironic when you think about it. Which was more important to the people in the time of Christ – the truth revealed to Noah on how to construct an ark? Or the truth being then revealed to them through prophets of the coming of the Savior? There is much to be learned from the prophets of old, but the rejection of the revelations given specifically for us would be a gross error. Thus, as Samuel the Lamanite said, although we may scorn at the apparent stupidity of those of old, “[we] are worse than they…” when we follow the recorded revelation and reject present day revelation.
James E. Talmage taught:
“It is at once unreasonable, and directly contrary to our conception of the unchangeable justice of God, to believe that He will bless the Church in one dispensation with present living revelation of His will and in another leave [His] Church… to live as best it may according to the laws of a bygone age. True, through apostasy the authority of the Priesthood may have been taken from the earth for a season, leaving the people in a condition of darkness with the windows of heaven shut against them; but at such times God has recognized no earthly Church as His own, not any prophet to declare with authority â€˜Thus saith the Lord.”4
That authority to receive revelation and speak in the name of the Lord exists today in this church, Christ’s church, as the power of the priesthood. This priesthood was revealed in the time of Adam, the time of Moses, the time of Christ – in every dispensation when Lord’s Church was on the earth. The authority to receive revelation and direction from God was – interestingly enough – received through revelation from God.
“Revelation is essential to the Church, not only for the proper calling and ordination of its ministers, but also that the officers so chosen may be guided in their administrations – to teach with authority the doctrines of salvation, to admonish, to encourage, and if necessary to reprove the people, and to declare unto them by prophesy the purposes and will of God respecting the Church, present and future. The promise of salvation is not limited by time, place, or persons.”5
Peter assured on the day of Pentecost:
“For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”6
Why is Revelation?
The revelation of God to His children is a direct consequence of His love for us. Through being worthy to receive, recognizing, following revelation, we can know and follow the path leading to eternal life. Revelation is part of the plan established by our Heavenly Father to lead us back to Him. By denying revelation, we not only ignore Him, but we effectively label Him as not loving us.
The benefits of accepting and following modern day revelation given through modern day prophets is the same today as it was in Christ’s time and in Moses’ time. The same God seeks to teach and lead through prophets, scriptures, and answers to prayers. Without these, there is no means for us to know of His will for us, to feel of His love, or to even know of His existence – NO WAY for us to return to Him. With these principles of modern day revelation, the opposite is true: We can know of His existence; we can know of His will for us; we can feel of His love, and we can return to Him.
James E. Talmage succinctly and powerfully bore testimony of revelation and the restoration of the Church of Christ in these latter days. He taught:
“We can but imperfectly respect an authority whose very existence is a matter of uncertainty with us; therefore, if we are to implicitly trust and truly revere our Creator, we must know something of Him. Though the veil of mortality, with all its obscurity, may shut the light of the divine presence from the sinful heart, that separating curtain may be drawn aside and the heavenly light may shine into the righteous soul. By the listening ear, attuned to the celestial music, the voice of God has been heard declaring His personality and will; to the eye that is freed from the motes and beams of sin, single in its search after truth, the hand of God has been made visible; within the soul properly purified by devotion and humility the mind of God has been revealed.”7
1 Smith, Joseph F. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 104–5.
3 Smith Jr., Joseph (translator). The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Helaman 13:24-26.
4 Talmage, James E. The Articles of Faith. Deseret Book Co, June, 1981.
6 King James Version. The Holy Bible. Acts 2:29.
7 Talmage. The Articles of Faith.
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