“Drawing nearer to God through the Book of Mormon”, is a three—part series.
I am writing with the hope my children, grandchildren, family, friends, and interested others will be persuaded not only to believe in Christ and the restoration of God’s church through the prophet Joseph Smith, but to use the Book of Mormon to draw nearer to God.
I think drawing nearer to God means to communicate with Him like the writers of the Book of Mormon did. The prophet-historian, Mormon, abridged a thousand years of records to produce the plates that would eventually become the Book of Mormon.
I have been studying the Book of Mormon for nearly half a century. But more important than that, I have experienced some of the same manifestations of the Spirit as the writers of the Book of Mormon did. That is the purpose of the Book of Mormon—to teach those who study from its pages how to experience the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The prophet Joseph Smith taught:
“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (TPJS, p. 194).
A careful reading of the Book of Mormon will show that the key to drawing nearer to God is to acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Lord not only reveals things line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, but that is how we each learn about the things of the Spirit. One of the requirements to advance by lines and precepts is that we have desire. In other words, the Lord isn’t going to bless us with greater access to the gift of the Holy Ghost unless we desire and are diligently seeking it.
My interest in the doctrine of the Holy Ghost has evolved based on desire born out of need. When I was called to serve a mission I needed to understand the workings of the Spirit. This required me to study the scriptures and be prayerful so I could have the companionship of the Spirit, and know enough gospel doctrine to teach investigators.
As the years and decades have rolled on, my experiences with the gift of the Holy Ghost have grown many fold. I am both amazed and profoundly thankful for the Lord’s tender mercies. My confidence in God has grown because of the many experiences I’ve had with the Holy Ghost.
Since June 2006, the fortieth anniversary of my answer to prayer while in Army Basic Training, a strong desire has grown in my heart to testify of the doctrine of Christ as taught in the Book of Mormon.
I desire that my family, friends, and interested others can know of these things. I hope all who read this will find something useful to help them draw nearer to God. (D&C 108:7)
To begin, I would like to clarify a few things. First, as I wrote in “Receptiveness of Spiritual Things,” followers of Christ are all on the same path, but we’re all at different places on the path. Second, the Lord hasn’t revealed everything pertaining to the Holy Ghost so there isn’t an answer to every question that can be asked [Note 1]. Third, one doesn’t need to have strong doctrinal knowledge of the gift of Holy Ghost to experience His manifestations. The prophet Joseph Smith was only fourteen when he entered the sacred grove. Fourth, I assume you understand the difference between the light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If not, or if you want a review, go to “Study by Topic,” a resource on the Church’s website.
The Book of Mormon-the Key to the Knowledge of the Holy Ghost
When I started to do research for this book I asked myself a question: What is the most important thing a church member can do in this life? At first, I was a little surprised at the answer my research turned up, but as I thought about it, I realized the answer I found was right on the mark. I wrote about this in “What is the Most Important Thing a Church Member can do in this Life.”
I think it’s important to understand that the Book of Mormon is a compilation of writings of many prophets. As I’ve studied their teachings, I realize that they lived at different times and they probably had, at least to some degree, different levels of doctrinal understanding. They didn’t collaborate, have a correlation department, or use the resources we have today to insure they used doctrinal terms consistently.
The point I’m trying to make is that the Book of Mormon, as all scripture, is not like an encyclopedia or a dictionary containing precise, easy-to-understand definitions of terms. Apparently, the Lord intends for His followers to search the scriptures to gain information and then seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost for greater understanding. Nephi explains it this way: “He that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (1 Nephi 10:8)
Qualifying for the Gift of Holy Ghost
The revealed practice for receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost has four parts: First, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, repentance; third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Once a candidate for baptism is interviewed, and it is determined he has adequate faith in Jesus Christ and has repented, a date is set for his baptism. This ordinance consist of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (This part is called confirmation. This is where the newly baptized are instructed, even commanded, to receive the Holy Ghost.)
Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost
Once we’re baptized and confirmed, is everything done? Do we now have a remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost? I think it’s safe to say there is more to do (at least for the vast majority of mankind). Think of it like being accepted to college. Once accepted is all done? No, course work needs to be completed before a obtaining a degree.
The Book of Mormon teaches that there are two baptisms we need to experience: the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. The church is able to provide the baptism of water; the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is given by the Lord.
The Savior taught the Nephites about this process, saying: “I have given power that they [church leaders] may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost . . . Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words [church leaders], and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.” (3 Nephi 12:1-2)
In this verse, the Savior teaches three important doctrines pertaining to baptism:
1. The church has power to baptize with water
2. The Lord baptizes with fire and the Holy Ghost
3. Remission of sins is received when one is baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost
The prophet Joseph Smith emphasized the importance of being baptized by both water and the Spirit saying, “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.” (History of the Church, 5:499)
Speaking to missionaries on this subject, Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
“Missionaries sometimes think they are only to do half the work; they are to teach and then baptize by water, and that concludes their work. In many cases the other half, the teaching about the baptism of fire, never really gets done . . . Get that idea in your mind with those two fixed together so tightly that, as one, it becomes part of you. Then we will not have the first half done, as is often the case at present, and the other half left undone.” (Elder Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Aug 2006, p. 50)
Apparently, Elder Packer feels we need to do a better job teaching about the baptism of the Spirit.
When is Baptism with Fire and with the Holy Ghost Received?
The short answer to this question is when we are ready. Remember, the church has power to baptize with water, but the Lord reserves the right to determine when we’re ready to receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, answering the question when do we receive fire and the Holy Ghost, said, “Either then [when baptized] or later, depending upon the individual’s personal worthiness, the Holy Ghost comes. The baptized person becomes a new creature. He is baptized with fire, sin and evil are burned out of his soul, and he is born again.” A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 291.
Here, Elder McConkie teaches that receiving the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is to be “born again.” This is an important doctrine to understand. The term born again is full of meaning. It draws our minds to a new beginning for the recipients of this transforming blessing. I think most members of the church are familiar with the doctrine of being born again. A well known scripture from the Book of Mormon says:
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.” (Mosiah 27:25-26)
This verse teaches the important doctrine that to be born again is to become a son or daughter of God. Another way to think of this is to remember that the fall brought spiritual and physical death to all of mankind. Because of the atonement of Christ, all mankind will over come physical death through the resurrection, a free gift. But overcoming spiritual death requires that we have faith in Jesus Christ, repent, receive the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. When we do, we’re changed from our carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, and we become sons and daughter of God.
The scripture refer to this change using a variety of terms. Here are a few to watch for:
1. Mighty Change
3. Born Again
4. Becoming a son or daughter of Christ
5. Remission of sins
6. Baptism with fire and with the Holy Ghost
Heavenly Father has prepared a plan so all those who desire to return to His presence can do so. The Holy Ghost is an essential part of that plan. We don’t worship the Holy Ghost, for that matter we don’t worship Jesus Christ, we worship the Father. Elder McConkie said it well when he reduced the mystery of who and how we worship into a single, easy to follow sentence.
“We worship the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” The Promised Messiah, p. 13.
One of the reasons I decided to write this book is to do what I can to encourage greater understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. Of course, the ultimate goal is not to just understand, but to experience the gift of the Holy Ghost.
In part 1, I have tried to lay out the basic doctrine of the Holy Ghost without going into a lot of detail. In part 2, I will include more detail.
[Note 1] “The last word has not been spoken on any subject. Streams of living water shall yet flow from the Eternal Spring who is the source of all truth. There are more things we do not know about the doctrines of salvation than there are things we do know.” Bruce R. McConkie, “A New Commandment: Save Thyself and Thy Kindred!” Ensign, Aug 1976, 7