Discovering the Holy Ghost

“Discovering the Holy Ghost,” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 69

Special Issue: New Testament

Discovering the Holy Ghost

John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of the Lord, contrasted his own work with that of the Lord when he said: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.” (Matt. 3:11.)

In the later Judean ministry, when Jesus taught at the temple in Jerusalem at the Feast of the Tabernacles, he declared, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38.)

And John the Beloved explained: “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39.)

About six months later, when the Lord taught the apostles after the Last Supper, he said:

“These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.

“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 14:25–26.)

Then Jesus added other things the Comforter would do: “he shall testify of me” (John 15:26); “he will guide you into all truth … and he will shew you things to come.” (John 16:13.)

Three days later, on the evening of the day Jesus was resurrected, he appeared to the apostles and told them:

“As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (John 20:21–22.)

After the resurrection, then, the risen Christ “shewed himself alive … [to his apostles] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3.) He told them, “ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5), and “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” (Acts 1:8.)

Jesus had been crucified and resurrected at the time of the Passover, was with his disciples 40 days after the resurrection, and the day of Pentecost came 50 days after the Passover. So it was only a few days after Christ’s ascension into heaven that the Holy Ghost came upon the apostles with great power:

“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

“And suddenly there came 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, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1–4.) That was the magnificent introductory manifestation of the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the ancient apostles to give them power from on high to assume the responsibility for that dispensation of the gospel. But earlier prophets had also enjoyed the power of the Holy Ghost, for the Lord has revealed in our day that “before he came … holy prophets … spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost … as well as those who should come after. …” (D&C 20:26–27.)

However, the gift of the Holy Ghost was not for the prophets and apostles alone. As a result of a great sermon Peter gave on that day of Pentecost the multitude “were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

“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.” (Acts 2:37–39.)

About 3,000 souls were baptized as a result.

From that time the apostles went forth endowed with power, and the Holy Ghost was an active force operating in their lives. They spoke by the Holy Ghost (see Acts 4:8); they preached by that gift (see 1 Pet. 1:12) and taught by it (see Acts 10:45). They testified of Christ by the Holy Ghost (see 1 Cor. 12:3), they discerned situations through it (see Acts 5:3), and rebuked evil forces by the power of the Spirit (see Acts 13:9). Revelation and scripture were given to them by the Holy Ghost (see Acts 10:19; 2 Pet. 1:12), and men were called to offices in the church by the gift of the Holy Ghost. These were only some of the uses of that glorious gift in the New Testament church.

Principally, all of those uses existed so that three things might be accomplished: first, that the Holy Ghost might bear witness to those taught the gospel by the Lord’s servants (see Heb. 10:15; 1 Thes. 1:5); second, that people might be converted to the gospel (see Acts 10:44–48); and third, that after repentance and baptism they might have hands laid upon their heads and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost for their own blessing (see Acts 8:17). There was a great variety of gifts of the Spirit that a righteous person might enjoy personally after he received the gospel, or he might share the benefits of the gifts others had. (See 1 Cor. 12.)

Another way of observing the pervasive influence of the Holy Ghost in the lives of men and women who strive to associate themselves with the gospel is illustrated in these brief summary teachings from the church established by the Savior in the meridian of time:

(1) One can learn that Jesus is the Christ only by the Holy Ghost. The Corinthians were taught, “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Cor. 12:3.)

(2) Acceptance of Christ as the Redeemer causes one to love God—“the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Rom. 5:5.)

(3) Paul recognized that a witness of Christ and the love of God are the sources of hope, both in this life and in the eternities, and said to the Romans, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 15:13.)

(4) The product or fruit of these things is joy, even in this life, for as we are told, “the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 13:52.)

(5) The Apostle Paul defined even the kingdom of God in terms of the Holy Ghost, for he said, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 14:17.)

A person might ask himself, “Why should I have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of my sins, be baptized, and receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost?”

Carefully and prayerfully, study this answer from the words of the Lord: “all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence. …

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying:

“That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so become of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten, that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;

“For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified;

“Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

“And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten.” (Moses 6:57–62.)

The Lord tells us here that if we receive the principles and ordinances of the gospel in the way we should, even in this mortal life we can enjoy the presence of the Comforter, the record of heaven, and the peaceable things of immortal glory, for they are given to abide in us.

Perhaps we should recall that when we had hands laid upon our heads to be confirmed members of the Church and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the one officiating by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood called us by name and at the appropriate time said, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” Those words were addressed to us as a charge or responsibility to so conduct our lives and open our hearts to righteousness that we might be worthy to have the Holy Ghost come unto us. From that moment we had the right to receive the Holy Ghost, but he comes to us only as we manifest to God our desire and readiness to receive him in our lives.

The Lord said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20.) No doubt the Lord was also describing the influence of the Holy Ghost.

How different is Satan and his unholy influence! He takes advantage of every opportunity to force his way into any and every nook and cranny of one’s thoughts and life. In contrast, the Lord is a “gentleman” in the most exalted sense of that word. He does not force his way into our lives. As a gentleman he stands at the door and knocks. He wants us to invite him in. If we will not get up and remove the latch and open the door, the very least we can do is ask him to enter. Needless to say, we should be down on our knees, pouring out our hearts and begging him to come in to us.

No doubt there are some, like the ancient Ephesians, who, when Paul asked “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” responded “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” (Acts 19:2.) Undoubtedly there are many who have felt the precious influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives, but for whom it has been an infrequent, even rare occurrence. Even though it is a most sacred and priceless thing, surely it is the Lord’s will that we have that holy influence in our lives continuously rather than rarely. Even our sacrament prayers, which ordinarily are heard twice each Sunday, assure us that Heavenly Father wants us to have the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives not only continually but continuously—that is, not just again and again, but without interruption. In the blessing on the bread we hear: “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them; that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.” (D&C 20:77; italics added.)

When the Lord explained to Nicodemus that being born of the water and of the Spirit meant being baptized in water and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, he compared the coming of the Spirit to the wind:

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8.)

We might say it this way: when one feels the wind blow across his face he knows it is present, he feels its influence; yet he doesn’t see the wind, doesn’t know “whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.” With at least comparable certainty, when the Spirit rests upon one, he knows it is present, and he feels its influence.

There always seem to be those who are like the multitude who stoned Stephen to death. As he addressed them he said, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Acts 7:51.) No doubt there are others who, like Simon the sorcerer, would like to have the power of the Holy Ghost if they could buy it. (See Acts 8:9–24.) And surely there are those who would earnestly like to have that holy influence in their lives, but for some reason either haven’t had it or haven’t recognized it. Perhaps the key to their need lies in these words of Mormon to his son Moroni:

“And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;

“And the remission of sins bringeth meekness and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.” (Moro. 8:25–26.)

To make these things possible, the Lord suffered incomparably for us. In his own witness in this day he said: “Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit.” (D&C 19:18.) That unique suffering he experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane, prior to the awful agony of the trials and the crucifixion.

Even earlier, when he beheld Jerusalem, knowing the things the city would have to suffer because of her sins, his great compassion caused him to weep for her. (See Luke 19:41–48.) The Lord wept over the sins of ancient Israel and suffered for the sins of all mankind, including yours and mine. Yet, ask yourself these questions: Have I wept over my own sins? Have I pled for forgiveness? If I have been baptized and had hands laid upon my head to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, am I keeping the commandments, and do I constantly recognize my dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and pour out my heart in loving gratitude for his mercy? If I have done these things my life will at least begin to reflect that meekness and lowliness of heart that prepare me to enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost in my life. I will recognize that influence even as I recognize the wind.

Of the “spirit of revelation,” one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the Lord has said in our day, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” (D&C 8:2.) However, said he, “Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith.” (D&C 8:10.) Not only should we seek the Lord’s guidance in all things, but we should realize that he expects us to use the resources with which we are blessed to find solutions to our problems, and then, having done so, seek his confirmation or correction. He said, “Behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” (D&C 9:8–9.)

In addition to any particular gift, there are at least five basic manifestations we can discern as we witness the Holy Ghost in our lives: a positive hope of eternal life because of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice; an assurance of the truth of the gospel; his power in righteousness; a peace transcending temporal things; and, in varying degree, the joy that belongs to the eternal.

Knowing these things, or learning them, we should do everything within our power in righteousness to help our children come to know them also, for to be baptized and confirmed and then to routinely attend our meetings and perfunctorily do our duties without enjoying the richness of the Holy Ghost in our lives is like buying the tickets, dressing up for the event, going to the theater, and then sitting in the foyer throughout the performance. The Holy Ghost will be our guide if we will let him. In the words of the Lord, he will be a “river of living water” flowing in us always. (See John 7:38–39.) If we will do what the Lord has invited us to do, including having virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly, “The Holy Ghost shall be [our] constant companion.” (D&C 121:46.)

Illustrations by Gary Smith