Classic Talk: The Gift of the Holy Ghost: What Every Member Should Know

Boyd K. Packer, “The Gift of the Holy Ghost: What Every Member Should Know,” Ensign, Aug 2006, 46–52. Click here to go to the churches website for this article. Highlighting  is mine.

From an address given on June 24, 2003, at a seminar for new mission presidents, Missionary Training Center, Provo, Utah.

My purpose is to teach you through doctrine and scripture why it is that we do things as we do. I will give some direction and suggestions as to how we can do things better in order that each member of the Church will be thoroughly converted and never will fall away.

Joseph Smith said: “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).

To prepare people for baptism without teaching about the gift of the Holy Ghost is like a sacrament meeting where only the bread is blessed and passed. They would receive but half.

We will discuss linking baptism in an absolutely tight relationship to confirmation and the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Confirmation and Conferring the Gift of the Holy Ghost

Confirmation has two parts: to confirm as a member of the Church and then to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost. The priesthood holder performing that ordinance “bestows the gift of the Holy Ghost by saying, ‘Receive the Holy Ghost’ ” (Family Guidebook [pamphlet, 2001], 20).

There are two examples of the visible manifestation of the Holy Ghost I know of in the scriptures. The first was when the Lord was baptized:

“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him” (Matthew 3:16; see also 1 Nephi 11:27; 2 Nephi 31:8; D&C 93:15).

The other example came on the day of Pentecost. The Apostles had no doubt been ordained, but the Lord had now left them. They wondered what to do. They remembered He told them to stay in Jerusalem, and so they obeyed. And then it happened. They were in a house, and there was “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

“And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:2-4). Then they were authorized; they were prepared.

Then they could move about in the ministry that the Lord had called and commissioned them to do.

In the Doctrine and Covenants that pattern was repeated when the Lord said:

“Thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost;

“But now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old” (D&C 35:5-6).

When Paul went to Ephesus he found 12 men who had been baptized, but they had not yet received the Holy Ghost. They said to Paul, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost” (Acts 19:2).

What happened next is significant. Paul had them baptized again. Then he conferred upon them, by the laying on of hands, the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Acts 19:2-7).

Remember the fourth article of faith: “The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: 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.”

When parents are teaching their children and when missionaries are teaching investigators, preparing them for baptism by water, they must also think of the gift of the Holy Ghost-baptism by fire. Think of it as one sentence. First comes the baptism of water and then the baptism of fire.

Someone may ask the missionaries, “How are things going?” or “Are you teaching anyone?”

The missionaries automatically answer, “Yes, we have a family preparing for baptism and confirmation, for receiving the Holy Ghost.”

Or a father and mother might say to a child, “When you are eight years old, you will be ready to be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost.”

I repeat, to be baptized and to receive the Holy Ghost-link those two together.

All I say is evident and outlined in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants (see vv. 41-43, 45, 68). There are also some other references where this message is affirmed (see Acts 8:12, 14-17; D&C 33:11, 15; 36:2; 39:23; 49:13-14; 55:1; 68:25; 76:51-52; Articles of Faith 1:4).

Joseph Smith said, “The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use; they are necessarily and inseparably connected” (History of the Church, 6:316).

Baptism of Fire

I want to talk to you about the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. I also want to talk to you about angels.

“When they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (3 Nephi 19:13).

An excerpt from another verse teaches that this will come “if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior” (Mormon 7:10).

Again, there are two parts to baptism-baptism by water and baptism by fire or the Holy Ghost. If you separate the two, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, it is but half a baptism.

Communication from the Holy Ghost

How does the Holy Ghost communicate?

There is an example in 1 Nephi chapter 17 where Laman and Lemuel had been brutal to Nephi. They, in fact, had tried to take his life. In due course he said to them: “Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words” (1 Nephi 17:45; emphasis added).

That communication seldom comes audibly. Most of the time it comes through your feelings, as it did in this case.

Another example: The Lord taught this principle to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery: “You must study it out in your mind [work, study]; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you [the fire, burn]; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8; emphasis added). This applies to all of us.

Speaking with the Tongue of Angels

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism-yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.” Now this important principle: “And then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.

“But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire [that is the conferring] of the Holy Ghost, [ye] can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 31:13-14; emphasis added).

Nephi explains clearly what happens after baptism and confirmation and the reception of the Holy Ghost: “Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water [which is a symbolic witness of repentance]; and then cometh [the promise of cleansing for] a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 31:17).

We sometimes speak of baptism for the remission of sins. The remission, if you will read the scriptures carefully, comes through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way.” Here is someone who has been baptized and received the Holy Ghost, and they wonder what they are to do. Nephi answers: “But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts?

“Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:1-3).

Everything that missionaries are to know and to do is to bring their investigators to understand both baptism and confirmation. Then the investigators have their agency. Consider these simple words:

“Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

“For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

“Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh” (2 Nephi 32:4-6; emphasis added).

Now you must understand that baptism by water, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said plainly, is but half a baptism. Paul, when they had not received the Holy Ghost, started over again (see Acts 19:2-7).

You can receive this great blessing-to become familiar with the still, small voice and learn that this voice will tell you all things that you must do. The word we use to describe this communication is promptings, the way we feel. These promptings can come many times, through many experiences. That is the voice of the Lord speaking.

Nephi explained that angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, and you can speak with the tongue of angels, which simply means that you can speak with the power of the Holy Ghost. It will be quiet. It will be invisible. There will not be a dove. There will not be cloven tongues of fire. But the power will be there.

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. Put the two together so that you almost forbid yourself to say “baptism” without saying “confirmation”-that is baptism of the water and confirmation and the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost. 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.

Remember what Joseph Smith said: “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.”

Missionaries-and parents as well-are to teach both halves: “Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins [and the] Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Articles of Faith 1:4). Make it one sentence. Fix it in the front of your minds so that when you say one, you say the other, and when you think one, you think the other. Then you will begin to feel and understand, and the promptings will come.

Opposition by the Adversary

One word of warning: there is also a spirit of opposition and evil. That warning can also be found in the scriptures: “Whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him” (Moroni 7:17).

The spiritual communications from the Holy Ghost can be interrupted by the promptings and influence of the evil one. You will learn to recognize that.

To further our understanding of this principle, Nephi taught: “If ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray” (2 Nephi 32:8-9).

So when we speak of angels communicating by the power of the Holy Ghost and we are told by the prophets that we can speak with the tongue of angels, then we must know that there is an opposing influence. We must be able to detect it.

There is one word in the book of Jacob that should alert us: “Behold, will ye reject these words? Will ye reject the words of the prophets; and will ye reject all the words which have been spoken concerning Christ, after so many have spoken concerning him; and deny the good word of Christ, and the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and quench the Holy Spirit, and make a mock of the great plan of redemption?” (Jacob 6:8; emphasis added).

So the Spirit can be quenched!

Discerning Spiritual Experiences

When you receive these special spiritual experiences, they are not to be chattered about. They are private, and they are personal. You will come to know with a very personal conviction that the Lord knew you were coming that way.

You may learn by trial and error and say: “I knew I shouldn’t have done that. I knew I shouldn’t have!” How did you know? Because you knew. You were being prompted.

Or you will say regretfully, “I knew I should have done that and didn’t.” How will you know? You are being worked upon by the Spirit.

Promptings may come as “sudden strokes of ideas” (History of the Church, 3:381).

“I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:2).

“Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good-yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.

“. . . I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;

“And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive” (D&C 11:12-14).

“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23).


Conversion does not always happen immediately. Nevertheless, it comes as a quiet thing. It is a still, small voice. There are these very interesting verses in the book of Alma:

“Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.

“Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe” (Alma 32:16-17; emphasis added).

Investigators may say: “It looks right and feels right. I still don’t know about it. It just feels good.” Reason is prompting them, and they are baptized without stubbornness of heart. So the conversion comes.

Others may say: “You talk about this gift of the Holy Ghost and baptism by fire. Show me! Give me the witness, and then I will be baptized.”

For some it will take time. They may be disappointed when you say: “You will know after you decide! It takes an exercise of faith. You may not know at first and have that firm conviction, but it will come.”

The Word of Wisdom

Surely you can understand where the Word of Wisdom fits into this. How significant it is, “given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” (D&C 89:3).

This principle comes with a promise: “Run and not be weary, … walk and not faint” (D&C 89:20). That is desirable.

But there is a more important promise: “And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19).

Can you see the necessity of the Word of Wisdom? We press our people, almost beg our people, to behave themselves, to keep their spiritual person in tune so that they can have the reception of the Holy Ghost. Your body is the instrument of your mind and spirit. You must take proper care of it.

Never Will Fall Away

If people are properly taught, they never will fall away: “And as sure as the Lord liveth [that is an oath], so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them-yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth [a second oath], as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away” (Alma 23:6; emphasis added).

Those who have been taught and who receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the baptism of fire, will never fall away. They will be connected to the Almighty, who will guide them in their lives.

The Comforter

You never need to feel or be alone:

“I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; …

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:16, 18).

“The field is white already to harvest; wherefore, thrust in your sickles, and reap with all your might, mind, and strength.

“Open your mouths and they shall be filled. …

“Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you” (D&C 33:7-9).

The baptismal prayer given in the Book of Mormon states:

“These are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying:

“Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” (3 Nephi 11:24-25).

I bear witness of these words and of these Names. I invoke the blessings of the Lord upon you as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ to the end that His Spirit will be with you, and you will understand and can move forward accompanied by that power of the Holy Ghost.


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