“Chapter 50: Doctrine and Covenants 129–30,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 50,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
On February 9, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave instructions to Parley P. Pratt and others regarding how to distinguish between heavenly messengers and evil spirits. These instructions are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 129. On April 2, 1843, the Prophet met with Church members in Ramus, Illinois, and taught doctrine regarding various gospel topics, including the Godhead, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and how we can receive God’s blessings. These teachings are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 130.
- February 7, 1843
Elder Parley P. Pratt arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, from his mission in England.
- February 9, 1843
The Prophet Joseph Smith delivered the instructions recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 129.
- April 1, 1843
The Prophet Joseph Smith and others traveled to Ramus, Illinois.
- April 2, 1843
The Prophet Joseph Smith delivered the instructions recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 130.
The Prophet Joseph Smith received many visits and communications from heavenly messengers. In a letter written to Church members on September 7, 1842, the Prophet listed some of the remarkable events of the Restoration, including visits from heavenly messengers (see Matthew McBride, “Letters on Baptism for the Dead,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 274, or history.lds.org). He referred to an occasion when he heard “the voice of [the angel] Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna [River], detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light” (see D&C 128:20). Although the Prophet did not explain how Michael had detected the devil, sometime before the summer of 1839 the Prophet learned how to discern between heavenly messengers and Satan and his angels. During a June 27, 1839, meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Wilford Woodruff recorded the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding “the Keys of the Kingdom of God” by which the Apostles could “detect the [devil] when he transforms himself nigh unto an angel of light” (“Discourse, 27 June 1839, as Reported by Wilford Woodruff,” page , josephsmithpapers.org). The following year, the Prophet gave similar instruction to William Clayton, a new convert to the Church from England. In May 1842 the Prophet gave a sermon in Nauvoo in which he taught that “the keys are certain signs [and] words by which false spirits [and] personages may be detected from true.—which cannot be revealed to the Elders till the Temple is completed” (“Discourse, 1 May 1842, as Reported by Willard Richards,” page 94, josephsmithpapers.org).
When the Prophet Joseph Smith first instructed the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1839 regarding the appearance of angels and spirits, some of the Apostles were absent, including Parley P. Pratt. Elder Pratt “likely … learned about Joseph Smith’s teachings on the subject while laboring with the Twelve in England.” After he returned to Nauvoo from his mission on February 7, 1843, Elder Pratt was “apparently eager to learn firsthand from Joseph Smith what he had taught the Twelve in 1839” (“Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 129,” in Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl, eds., Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion , 844). He and others met with the Prophet on February 9, 1843. During this meeting the Prophet instructed Elder Pratt and his companions regarding discerning heavenly messengers from evil spirits. The Prophet’s journal entry for that day became the source for the text of Doctrine and Covenants 129. (See “Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 129,” 844–45.)
The scriptures teach that God sends heavenly messengers to His children “to minister according to the word of his command,” “to call [them] unto repentance,” and “to prepare the way” for His work to be accomplished (Moroni 7:30–31). As part of the Restoration, angels visited the Prophet Joseph Smith to reveal God’s will and to restore priesthood keys (see D&C 13; 110; 128:20–21; Joseph Smith—History 1:30–43). Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “From the beginning down through the dispensations, God has used angels as His emissaries in conveying love and concern for His children” (“The Ministry of Angels,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 29).
In his instructions recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 129, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that “there are two kinds of beings in heaven” (D&C 129:1). The first are “angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones” (D&C 129:1), which the Prophet illustrated by citing Luke’s account of the resurrected Savior appearing to His disciples (see D&C 129:2; see also Luke 24:36–43). The second kind of beings in heaven are “the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory” (D&C 129:3). The phrase “just men” refers to those who live in obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Such individuals can be sanctified and “made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out his perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:69). Thus, the phrase “spirits of just men made perfect” in Doctrine and Covenants 129:3 refers to righteous “spirits who have once had a mortal body and are awaiting resurrection” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Angels,” scriptures.lds.org).
While the Prophet Joseph Smith referred only to resurrected beings as angels, President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901) of the First Presidency explained, “In the broadest sense, any being who acts as a messenger for our Heavenly Father is an angel, be he a God, a resurrected man, or the spirit of a just man” (“Editorial Thoughts,” The Juvenile Instructor, Jan. 15, 1891, 53). Thus, in addition to the heavenly messengers described in Doctrine and Covenants 129, God’s angels also include spirits who “have not yet obtained a body of flesh and bone” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Angels,” scriptures.lds.org; see also Ether 3:6–16; Moses 5:6) as well as translated beings—individuals whose mortal bodies are changed so that they do not experience pain or death (see 3 Nephi 28:6–9; Mormon 8:10–11; D&C 7:1–3).
Just as God has angels who help Him accomplish His work, the devil has spirit followers who seek to destroy God’s work. The devil “is literally a spirit son of God and was at one time an angel in authority in the presence of God (Isa. 14:12; 2 Ne. 2:17)” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Devil,” scriptures.lds.org; see also D&C 76:25–27). When Satan rejected Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation in the premortal life, “a third part of the hosts of heaven,” or a third of God’s spirit children, rebelled with him (D&C 29:36; see also Moses 4:1–4; Abraham 3:27–28). “They were cast out of heaven, were denied the opportunity of obtaining mortal bodies and experiencing mortal life, and will be eternally damned. Since the time the devil was cast out of heaven, he has constantly sought to deceive all men and women and lead them away from the work of God in order to make all mankind as miserable as he is (Rev. 12:9; 2 Ne. 2:27; 9:8–9)” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Devil,” scriptures.lds.org). As recorded in the Book of Mormon, Korihor, an anti-Christ, admitted to being “deceived” by “the devil,” who “appeared unto [him] in the form of an angel” (Alma 30:53). The devil and his angels are skillful deceivers who attempt to counterfeit the light that accompanies true messengers sent from God (see D&C 128:20; 129:8).
For this reason the Prophet Joseph Smith explained “three grand keys whereby [we] may know whether any administration is from God” (D&C 129:9). These keys, or indicators, include the knowledge needed to discern heavenly messengers from the devil or one of his agents when he appears “as an angel of light” (D&C 129:8). Since “resurrected personages [have] bodies of flesh and bones” (D&C 129:1), when a heavenly messenger who is a resurrected being is invited to shake hands, “he will do so, and you will feel his hand,” thereby discerning the angel to be a true messenger from God (see D&C 129:4–5).
Some may wonder why the devil or one of his agents would “offer … his hand” (D&C 129:8), knowing that doing so would reveal his true identity. Part of the answer may be found in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teaching that “wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws, by which they are governed” (“Try the Spirits,” Times and Seasons, Apr. 1, 1842, 745). Those who understand the laws that govern angels and spirits can discern true messengers sent from God from false spirits seeking to deceive.
On April 1, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith, accompanied by William Clayton, Orson Hyde, and J. B. Backenstos, left Nauvoo and traveled 20 miles southeast to Ramus, Illinois, to visit family and friends. The next morning, the Prophet held a meeting with Church members in Ramus. During the meeting Orson Hyde preached a sermon in which he spoke of the Savior’s Second Coming and gave his interpretation of passages in the New Testament. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, ed. Andrew H. Hedges and others , 321, 323.)
After the morning meeting, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his companions had lunch at the home of the Prophet’s sister Sophronia Smith McCleary. During lunch the Prophet said, “Elder Hyde I am going to offer some corrections to you.” Elder Hyde humbly responded, “They shall be thankfully received.” The Prophet then corrected Elder Hyde’s interpretation of scripture. (See The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, 323–24; spelling standardized.) Responding to a question William Clayton asked, the Prophet shared additional doctrinal insights (see Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith , 289). The Prophet addressed Church members in Ramus during two other meetings held that afternoon and evening. In his remarks the Prophet repeated the correction he had given Orson Hyde and taught about the true nature of the Godhead. He also taught the importance of gaining spiritual knowledge and the necessity of obeying God’s laws in order to receive His blessings (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, 324–26). The Prophet’s teachings were recorded in his journal, and they became the basis for the text of Doctrine and Covenants 130.
In his April 2, 1843, sermon in Ramus, Illinois, Orson Hyde used 1 John 3:2 and Revelation 19:11 to teach that when Jesus Christ comes again, “he will appear on a white horse.—as a warrior.” Elder Hyde suggested that Church members “shall be like [the Savior]” in this manner and that “may be we shall have some of the same spirit.” He then quoted from John 14:23 and taught that “it is our privilege to have the father [and] son dwelling in our hearts.” (In The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, 323.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith corrected Elder Hyde’s misinterpretation of the scriptures by teaching that “when the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man [in form and feature] like ourselves” (D&C 130:1), except with a glorified, resurrected body (see D&C 130:22). He further explained that the “same sociality [social relationships] which exists among us here [as mortals on earth] will exist among us there,” or when we are in the Lord’s presence, but “it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2).
The Prophet Joseph Smith further taught that the promise recorded in John 14:23 does not refer to “the Father and the Son [literally dwelling] in [a person’s] heart” (D&C 130:3). This “old sectarian notion … is false” (D&C 130:3) and assumes that God is a spirit. The Prophet clarified that the Father and the Son have “bod[ies] of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22) and thus are glorified, resurrected Beings with physical bodies. During a meeting with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the summer of 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) explained that when the Savior taught that He and the Father would “come unto” those who keep the commandments “and make [their] abode with [them]” (John 14:23), He was referring to the gift of the Second Comforter:
“After a person hath faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins, and receives the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands) which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after Righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son thou shalt be exalted. … When the Lord has [thoroughly] proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazard, then the man will find his calling and Election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in [John 14:12–27]. … Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter, that when any man obtains this last Comforter he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him or appear unto him from time to time, and even he will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. C-1 addenda, pages 8–9, josephsmithpapers.org; underlining in original; see also John 14:16–23; D&C 88:68; 93:1).
Sociality refers to our personal interactions and relationships. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that for faithful Church members, the social relationships they enjoy in mortality among their families and friends will continue in the eternities but “will be coupled with eternal glory” (D&C 130:2). President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency testified of the eternal nature of family relationships:
“The thought and the hope that I can have eternal relationships carries me through the trials of separation and the loneliness which are part of mortal existence. The promise to the faithful in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we may have associations and an expansion of families in the eternities. That assurance changes forever and for the better all of our associations in families.
“… Because of the restoration of the knowledge of eternal families, we are more hopeful and more kindly in all our family relations. The greatest joys in this life center in families, as they will in the worlds to come. I am so grateful for the assurance I have that if we are faithful, the same sociality which we enjoy here in this life will be forever with us in the world to come, in eternal glory [see D&C 130:2]” (“The True and Living Church,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 22).
In answer to a question that William Clayton asked relating to time, the Prophet Joseph Smith confirmed that “the reckoning [calculation] of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time [is] according to the planet on which they reside” (D&C 130:4). This teaching reaffirms what is taught in the book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith began publishing approximately one year earlier—in March 1842—in the Church’s newspaper Times and Seasons (see “Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 130,” in Largey and Dahl, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, 846). The book of Abraham teaches that “one revolution,” or day, on the planet Kolob is equivalent to “one thousand years according to the time appointed” on earth (see Abraham 3:4).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that exalted, resurrected angels “do not reside on a planet like this earth; but they reside in the presence of God, on a globe [planet] like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord” (D&C 130:6–7). Speaking about how the principle of time relates to God’s foreknowledge of all things, Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:
“God does not live in the dimension of time as do we. Moreover, since ‘all things are present with’ God [Moses 1:6], his is not simply a predicting based solely upon the past. In ways which are not clear to us, he actually sees, rather than foresees, the future—because all things are, at once, present, before him! …
“… He is the living God who is, at once, in the dimensions of the past and present and future, while we labor constrained by the limitations of time itself” (“A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, Feb. 1979, 72–73).
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that “angels who minister to this earth” are those who have lived or who will live on it (D&C 130:5). President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) further taught that angels who visit this earth are not strangers to it or to those to whom they minister: “When messengers are sent to minister to the inhabitants of this earth, they are not strangers, but from the ranks of our kindred, friends, and fellow-beings and fellow-servants. The ancient prophets who died were those who came to visit their fellow creatures upon the earth. … In like manner our fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and friends who have passed away from this earth, having been faithful, and worthy to enjoy these rights and privileges, may have a mission given them to visit their relatives and friends upon the earth again, bringing from the divine Presence messages of love, of warning, or reproof and instruction, to those whom they had learned to love in the flesh” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 435–36).
In a December 1832 revelation, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned that “[the earth] must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory; for after it hath fulfilled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father; that bodies who are of the celestial kingdom may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made and created” (D&C 88:18–20; see also D&C 88:25–26). On February 18, 1843, Joseph Smith taught that the earth would eventually be sanctified and become a Urim and Thummim (see The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, 266). The Prophet repeated this instruction on April 2, 1843, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 130:8–9. “This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state” (D&C 130:9) has reference to the exalted earth after it becomes the celestial kingdom of God following the Savior’s Millennial reign. In its celestial state, “this earth … will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon” (D&C 130:9). This is a symbolic expression. Isaiah spoke of a future day when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). The Urim and Thummim was an instrument prepared by God to assist His servants in obtaining revelation and in translating languages (see Exodus 28:30; Mosiah 8:13; D&C 17:1; Abraham 3:1). Just as the Urim and Thummim revealed light and truth to God’s servants, the celestialized earth will be a place where the glory, power, and knowledge of God will be manifested.
Elder Mark E. Peterson (1900–1984) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified:
“This earth was not designed merely as a home for mortals. … It has a greater destiny than that. This earth will not remain in its present condition. It is to become immortal. It will pass through a refining process by which it will become a celestial globe and be like a Urim and Thummim in the skies. (See D&C 130:9.) That will require further acts of divine creation. …
“The Savior will reside here when earth is celestialized, and His Father will visit it from time to time. It then will be the eternal home of those who achieve celestial glory in the kingdom of God.
“Such is the final destiny of the earth. Such was the purpose God had in mind in creating it, for He planned it so in the beginning” (“Creator and Savior,” Ensign, May 1983, 63–64).
For more information regarding the celestialized earth, see the commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 77:1 and Doctrine and Covenants 88:17–20, 25–26 in this manual.
The book of Revelation in the New Testament is a record of the Lord’s revelation to the Apostle John. The revelation contains a message of hope and encouragement to the faithful members of the Church who lived at a time of intense trial and persecution. The Lord promised great blessings, including exaltation and “a crown of [eternal] life,” to those who overcome the wickedness of the world (see Revelation 2:7, 10), meaning those who receive eternal life in the celestial kingdom of God. The revelation also teaches that each person who “overcometh” the world will each be given “a white stone” (Revelation 2:17). In his teachings recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 130, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that each white stone will function as a personal Urim and Thummim (see D&C 130:10). Whereas the celestial earth will reveal “all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order,” the white stone will reveal “things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms” (see D&C 130:9–10).
On December 25, 1832, the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated a “revelation and prophecy on war” (D&C 87, section heading), which is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 87. The revelation warned that “wars [would] shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina [in the United States], which [would] eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls” (D&C 87:1–2). The Prophet had learned about a serious conflict between the United States government and the state of South Carolina over federal tariffs, or taxes on imported goods. At the time, the United States government was charging states high taxes on products imported from other countries, which particularly affected farmers in the Southern states. In November 1832, state government leaders in South Carolina passed an ordinance declaring federal tariff laws to be unconstitutional and threatened to withdraw from the United States if the federal government tried to enforce the tariff laws in South Carolina. The crisis almost resulted in armed conflict, but the United States government peacefully settled the issue in February 1833. (See Jed Woodworth, “Peace and War,” in McBride and Goldberg, Revelations in Context, 158–60, or history.lds.org.)
With the crisis resolved and war averted, some may have believed that the prophecy recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 87 went unfulfilled. However, almost 11 years later the Prophet Joseph Smith reaffirmed the prophecy he received in 1832. He emphasized that before the Savior’s Second Coming, “difficulties which would cause much bloodshed … [would] be in [the state of] South Carolina” and would “probably arise” over the issue of slavery (D&C 130:12–13). The fulfillment of this prophecy began in December 1860, when South Carolina seceded (withdrew) from the United States because of disputes over slavery. Four months later the first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
Elder Orson Pratt, who carried a copy of the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 87 as a missionary and shared it with others, described how those he taught reacted to this prophecy:
“I went forth … when I was a youth of nineteen, … and from that time on I published these tidings among the inhabitants of the earth. I carried forth the written revelation, foretelling this great contest, some twenty-eight years before the [American Civil War] commenced. This prophecy has been printed and circulated extensively in this and other nations and languages. It pointed out the place where it should commence in South Carolina. …
“What did [the people] have to say to me? They … laughed me to scorn, and they looked upon that revelation as they do upon all others that God has given in these latter days,—as without divine authority. But behold and lo! in process of time it came to pass, again establishing the divinity of this work, and giving another proof that God is in this work, and is performing that which He spoke by the mouths of the ancient prophets” (“Discourse by Elder Orson Pratt,” Deseret News, Apr. 20, 1870, 127).
For additional explanation regarding the Prophet Joseph Smith’s prophecy on war, see the commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 87 in this manual.
In 1843 a Christian preacher named William Miller predicted that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would occur sometime between the spring of 1843 and the spring of 1844. This prediction was widely publicized and caused many to speculate about the Lord’s Second Coming, including some of the early Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings to Church members in Ramus, Illinois, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 130:14–17, “may have been prompted by someone in the meeting voicing questions and concerns regarding Miller’s predictions” (“Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 130,” in Largey and Dahl, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion, 847). The Prophet shared a revelation he had received when “[he] was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man” (D&C 130:14). He explained that he “heard a voice” telling him, “If thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man” (D&C 130:14–15). The Prophet expressed uncertainty about how to interpret the Lord’s revelation (see D&C 130:16). By responding to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s question in the way that He did, the Lord essentially withheld the time of His coming from the Prophet and asked him to “trouble [Him] no more on this matter” (D&C 130:15).
Previous revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding Jesus Christ’s Second Coming reflected the Savior’s teachings to His disciples during His mortal ministry. A May 1831 revelation taught: “But the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes” (D&C 49:7; see also D&C 39:21). Similarly, shortly before William Miller’s appointed time for the Savior’s Second Coming drew near, the Prophet Joseph Smith warned the Saints about those claiming to know the time of this event: “Jesus Christ never did reveal to any man the precise time that He would come [see Matthew 24:36; D&C 49:7]. Go and read the Scriptures, and you cannot find anything that specifies the exact hour He would come; and all that say so are false teachers” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 253).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:18). Elder Neal A. Maxwell clarified what the word intelligence means in Doctrine and Covenants 130:18–19: “If we ponder just what it is that will rise with us in the resurrection, it seems clear that our intelligence will rise with us, meaning not simply our IQ, but also our capacity to receive and apply truth. Our talents, attributes, and skills will rise with us; certainly also our capacity to learn, our degree of self-discipline, and our capacity to work” (We Will Prove Them Herewith , 12).
It is customary to speak of obtaining knowledge and intelligence through study. However, the Lord instructed the Saints in an earlier revelation to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). The Prophet’s teachings in Ramus, Illinois, help clarify what it means to learn “by faith.” When God’s children act in faith “through [their] diligence and obedience” to Him, they “[gain] more knowledge and intelligence” and “will have so much the advantage in the world to come” (D&C 130:19; see also D&C 93:26–28, 36). On another occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 210).
An irrevocable law is permanent and unchangeable. The irrevocable law that God “decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world” was that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated,” or based on (D&C 130:20–21). Speaking of the premortal council in heaven, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 210).
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency explained that the laws or commandments of God are gifts to us from a loving and kind Heavenly Father, who is anxious to bless His children:
“Our Father in Heaven is an eternal being whose experience, wisdom, and intelligence are infinitely greater than ours [see Isaiah 55:9]. Not only that, but He is also eternally loving, compassionate, and focused on one blessed goal: to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life [see Moses 1:39].
“In other words, He not only knows what is best for you; He also anxiously wants you to choose what is best for you.
“If you believe this in your hearts—if you truly believe the great mission of our Heavenly Father is to exalt and glorify His children and that He knows best how to do it—doesn’t it make sense to embrace and follow His commandments, even the ones that appear difficult? Should we not cherish the light posts He has given that guide us through the darkness and the trials of mortality? They mark the way back to our heavenly home! …
“Part of our challenge is, I think, that we imagine that God has all of His blessings locked in a huge cloud up in heaven, refusing to give them to us unless we comply with some strict, paternalistic requirements He has set up. But the commandments aren’t like that at all. In reality, Heavenly Father is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us.
“His commandments are the loving instructions and the divine help for us to close the umbrella so we can receive the shower of heavenly blessings” (“Living the Gospel Joyful,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 121–22).
In the Prophet Joseph Smith’s concluding remarks to Church members in Ramus, Illinois, he again referred to Orson Hyde’s incorrect teachings regarding the Father and the Son and instructed these Saints about the correct attributes of the Godhead. He taught that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are distinct and separate individuals who have physical bodies “of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (D&C 130:22). In a sermon given at a general conference of the Church in Nauvoo, Illinois, the following year, the Prophet Joseph Smith expounded on this doctrine and explained the importance of understanding the nature and character of God:
“If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. I want to go back to the beginning, and so lift your minds into more lofty spheres and a more exalted understanding than what the human mind generally aspires to. …
“God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make Himself visible,—I say, if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 40).
Referring to the Prophet’s teachings about God the Father having a physical body, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “This belief does not mean that we claim sufficient spiritual maturity to comprehend God. Nor do we equate our imperfect mortal bodies to his immortal, glorified being. But we can comprehend the fundamentals he has revealed about himself and the other members of the Godhead. And that knowledge is essential to our understanding of the purpose of mortal life and of our eternal destiny as resurrected beings after mortal life” (“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 85–86).
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s description of the Holy Ghost as “a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22) indicates He is a person who is separate and distinct from the Father and the Son, although “these three persons are one in perfect unity and harmony of purpose and doctrine” (Guide to the Scriptures, “God, Godhead,” scriptures.lds.org). Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The Holy Ghost has a spirit body, unlike God the Father and Jesus Christ, who have physical bodies. This truth clarifies other names given to the Holy Ghost and familiar to us, including Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of the Lord, Holy Spirit of Promise, and Comforter” (“How Does the Holy Ghost Help You?” Ensign or Liahona, May 2017, 118). As a “personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22), the Holy Ghost can only be in one place at one time. However, His influence and power can be manifested everywhere at the same time.
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that if the Holy Ghost was not a spirit, He “could not dwell in us” (D&C 130:22). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles clarified what it means to have the Holy Ghost dwell in us: “The Holy Ghost as a personage does not inhabit the bodies of mortal men, but that member of the Godhead dwells in a man in the sense that his promptings, the whisperings of the Spirit, find lodgment in the human soul. When the Holy Spirit speaks to the spirit in man, the Holy Ghost is thereby dwelling in man, for the truths that man then gives forth are those which have come from the Holy Ghost” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary , 1:738).
Using the example from the New Testament of the Roman centurion Cornelius (see Acts 10), the Prophet Joseph Smith explained how the Holy Ghost can influence—but not “tarry,” or stay, with—someone who has not been baptized or received the gift of the Holy Ghost: “There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. [See Acts 10:1–48.]” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 97).
In addition, the Holy Ghost will “not tarry” (D&C 130:23) with those who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost but then withdraw themselves from His companionship. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged Church members to consider how their choices affect their ability to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost:
“We should … endeavor to discern when we ‘withdraw [ourselves] from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in [us] to guide [us] in wisdom’s paths that [we] may be blessed, prospered, and preserved’ (Mosiah 2:36). …
“The standard is clear. If something we think, see, hear, or do distances us from the Holy Ghost, then we should stop thinking, seeing, hearing, or doing that thing. If that which is intended to entertain, for example, alienates us from the Holy Spirit, then certainly that type of entertainment is not for us. Because the Spirit cannot abide that which is vulgar, crude, or immodest, then clearly such things are not for us. Because we estrange the Spirit of the Lord when we engage in activities we know we should shun, then such things definitely are not for us.
“I recognize we are fallen men and women living in a mortal world and that we might not have the presence of the Holy Ghost with us every second of every minute of every hour of every day. However, the Holy Ghost can tarry with us much, if not most, of the time—and certainly the Spirit can be with us more than it is not with us. As we become ever more immersed in the Spirit of the Lord, we should strive to recognize impressions when they come and the influences or events that cause us to withdraw ourselves from the Holy Ghost” (“That We May Always Have His Spirit to Be with Us,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 30).