Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 17: Revelation through the Holy Ghost

“Chapter 17: Revelation through the Holy Ghost,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor (2011), 153–61

“Chapter 17,” Teachings: John Taylor, 153–61

Chapter 17

Revelation through the Holy Ghost

Revelation … is the very foundation of our religion.1

From the Life of John Taylor

President John Taylor said: “I well remember a remark that Joseph Smith made to me. … Said he, ‘Elder Taylor, you have been baptized, you have had hands laid upon your head for the reception of the Holy Ghost, and you have been ordained to the holy priesthood. Now, if you will continue to follow the leadings of that spirit, it will always lead you right. Sometimes it might be contrary to your judgment; never mind that, follow its dictates; and if you be true to its whisperings it will in time become in you a principle of revelation so that you will know all things.’”2

John Taylor followed the counsel of Joseph Smith and relied on revelation through the Holy Ghost for guidance in his personal life and in his calling as a prophet, seer, and revelator. President Heber J. Grant, the seventh President of the Church, commented on President Taylor’s sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit: “I was called into the Council of the Twelve Apostles by a revelation of the Lord to President John Taylor. From the time that I entered the Council of the Twelve, two years after John Taylor was made President of the Church, until the day of his death, I met with him, week after week, … and I know that he was a servant of the living God. I know that the inspiration of the Lord came to him; and I know that upon all occasions, whenever he said: ‘This is what the Lord desires,’ and his associates in the council of the apostles sustained his position, that upon every occasion he was vindicated and the inspiration of the Lord to him showed that his wisdom by the power of God had been superior to the wisdom of other men. …

“I could relate circumstances when the apostles have been sent out to accomplish certain labors under the inspiration of the Lord to John Taylor, when they thought they could not accomplish the labors. They have returned and been able to bear testimony that by and with the help of the Lord they had been able to accomplish the labor placed upon them by President Taylor, the prophet of the Lord.”3

Teachings of John Taylor

There is a difference between the Spirit that leads men to do right and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

In regard to the operation of the Spirit upon man, let me draw your attention to a fact that is generally understood by all reflecting men, and that is, no matter how wicked a man may be, how far he may have departed from the right, such a man will generally admire and respect a good man, an honorable man, and a virtuous man; and such a man will frequently say; “I wish I could do as that man does, but I cannot: I wish I could pursue a correct course, but I am overcome of evil.” They cannot help respecting the good and the honorable, although they may not be governed by principles of honor and virtue themselves. This same spirit which is given to every man outside of the gospel has been manifested in the different ages of the world. …

But there is a very great difference between this spirit and feeling that leads men to do right, which is emphatically denominated a portion of the Spirit of God, which is given to every man to profit withal, and what is termed in the scriptures the gift of the Holy Ghost.4

There is and always has been a spirit abroad in the world which is really a portion of the Spirit of God, which leads mankind, in many instances, to discriminate between good and evil, and between right and wrong. They have a conscience that accuses or excuses them for their acts; and although the world of mankind is very wicked and very corrupt, yet it will be found that almost all men, though they may not do good themselves, appreciate good actions in others.

The scriptures say that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17:26–27.) The scripture further says, he has given unto them a portion of his spirit to profit withal [see 1 Corinthians 12:7]. But there is quite a distinction between the position that these people occupy and the one which we occupy. We have something more than that portion of the Spirit of God which is given to every man, and it is called the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is received through obedience to the first principles of the gospel of Christ, by the laying on of hands of the servants of God.5

Through the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can know the things of God.

When the Gospel was preached in former times among the people they were told to repent of their sins; to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of their sins, and then to have hands laid upon them for the reception of the Holy Ghost [see Acts 2:37–38]. They were told, moreover, what this Holy Ghost would do; that it would take of the things of God and shew them unto them; that it would cause their old men to dream dreams and their young men to see visions; and that it would rest upon the servants and handmaids of God and they should prophesy [see Acts 2:16–18; see also Joel 2:28–29].

These are the operations of that Spirit which dwells with God, the Father, and God, the Son, namely the Holy Ghost. It is this Spirit that brings us into relationship with God, and it differs very materially from the portion of spirit that is given to all men to profit withal. …

Its province is to lead us into all truth, and to bring to our remembrance things past, present and to come. It contemplates the future and unfolds things we had not thought of heretofore, and these things are very distinctly described in the Bible, in the Book of Mormon, and in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. Herein lies the difference between us and others, and it was so in former times.6

We believe that it is necessary for man to be placed in communication with God; that he should have revelation from him, and that unless he is placed under the influences of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he can know nothing about the things of God. I do not care how learned a man may be, or how extensively he may have traveled. I do not care what his talent, intellect, or genius may be, at what college he may have studied, how comprehensive his views or what his judgment may be on other matters, he cannot understand certain things without the Spirit of God, and that necessarily introduces the principle I before referred to—the necessity of revelation. Not revelation in former times, but present and immediate revelation, which shall lead and guide those who possess it in all the paths of life here, and to eternal life hereafter.7

Continuing revelation is the foundation of our religion.

We did not receive our ideas from any theologian, from any scientist, from any man of renown, or of position in the world, or from any body or conclave of religionists, but from the Almighty, and to Him we are indebted for all life, all truth, and all intelligence pertaining to the past, pertaining to the present, or pertaining to the future. Therefore we feel our dependence upon Him. …

No man knows the things of God but by the Spirit of God [see 1 Corinthians 2:11]; and if the Father did not reveal them we should be very ignorant indeed. … Having revealed His will to man, to Joseph Smith, as He had done to other men in former ages, it was necessary that that will should be made known to all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, that men might be informed of the things that He revealed for the salvation and exaltation of humanity. Hence the Twelve were set apart. For what purpose? That they might introduce the Gospel to the nations of the earth and preach the principles of life as they emanate from God. …

Their testimony to the people is that God has spoken, that the Gospel has been restored; they explain what the Gospel is; they call upon the people to repent and to be baptised in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins, promising that the obedient shall receive the Holy Ghost. … And being partakers of that spirit, there is a communication opened between them and their Heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ, and being inspired by that spirit, their prayers ascend unto the God of the whole earth; they learn to place their confidence in Him and to obey His laws.8

The Bible is good. … The Book of Mormon is good, and the Doctrine and Covenants, as land-marks. But a mariner who launches into the ocean requires a more certain criterion. He must be acquainted with heavenly bodies, and take his observations from them, in order to steer his barque [or ship] aright. Those books are good for example, precedent, and investigation, and for developing certain laws and principles. But they do not, they cannot, touch every case required to be adjudicated and set in order.

We require a living tree—a living fountain—living intelligence, proceeding from the living priesthood in heaven, through the living priesthood on earth. … And from the time that Adam first received a communication from God, to the time that John, on the Isle of Patmos, received his communication, or Joseph Smith had the heavens opened to him, it always required new revelations, adapted to the peculiar circumstances in which the churches or individuals were placed.

Adam’s revelation did not instruct Noah to build his ark; nor did Noah’s revelation tell Lot to forsake Sodom; nor did either of these speak of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt. These all had revelations for themselves, and so had Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, and Joseph. And so must we, or we shall make shipwreck.9

A good many people, and those professing Christians, will sneer a good deal at the idea of present revelation. Whoever heard of true religion without communication with God? To me the thing is the most absurd that the human mind could conceive. I do not wonder, when the people generally reject the principle of present revelation, that skepticism and infidelity prevail to such an alarming extent. I do not wonder that so many men treat religion with contempt, and regard it as something not worth the attention of intelligent beings, for without revelation religion is a mockery and a farce. If I can not have a religion that will lead me to God, and place me en rapport with him, and unfold to my mind the principles of immortality and eternal life, I want nothing to do with it.

The principle of present revelation, then, is the very foundation of our religion. … I would not only search the scriptures that we now have, but I would search also every revelation that God has given, does give, or will give for the guidance and direction of his people, and then I would reverence the Giver, and those also whom he makes use of as his honored instruments to promulgate and make known those principles; and I would seek to be governed by the principles that are contained in that sacred word.10

Each of us needs revelation to understand and fulfil our responsibilities.

There is not a position that we can occupy in life, either as fathers, mothers, children, masters, servants, or as elders of Israel holding the holy priesthood in all its ramifications, but what we need continually is wisdom flowing from the Lord and intelligence communicated by him, that we may know how to perform correctly the various duties and avocations of life, and to fulfil the various responsibilities that rest upon us. And hence the necessity all the day long, and every day and every week, month, and year, and under all circumstances, of men leaning upon the Lord and being guided by that Spirit that flows from him, that we may not fall into error—that we may neither do anything wrong, say anything wrong, nor think anything wrong, and all the time retain that Spirit, which can only be kept by observing purity, holiness, and virtue, and living continually in obedience to the laws and commandments of God.11

Now ask yourselves, when you have been living up to your privileges, and the Spirit of God has beamed upon your minds, and your souls have been enlightened with the candle of the Lord, with the intelligence of heaven, and you have walked according to the light of eternal truth, if in these moments you have not always felt ready to fulfill any obligations that were required of you, and whether you have not always performed your duties with pleasantness and satisfaction to yourselves. But when our minds are carried away with the things of this world, when we lose sight of the kingdom of God and its interests, its glory, the happiness and well being of the human family, and the events that we are expecting to transpire on the earth, and the part that we are to take in them; when we lose sight of our various duties as fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children … , and get carried away with our own notions, ideas and selfishness, and we become involved in evil, it is then that it is difficult for us to comprehend the things of God.12

The Lord has given us revelations concerning both our temporal and spiritual affairs. He has commenced to build up Zion, and to establish his kingdom, and he will roll on his purposes, and fulfil the words of the prophets, and his work will roll forth until the designs of God shall be accomplished.13

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • What is the difference between the Spirit of God that leads us to do right and the gift of the Holy Ghost? (See also D&C 93:2; John 14:26.)

  • What experiences have you had in which revelation by the Spirit helped you understand the things of God? How can we recognize personal revelation from the Lord?

  • How does focusing on worldly matters interfere with receiving revelation? What can we do to prepare ourselves to receive revelation?

  • How can revelation given to us through our living prophet be more helpful than even the scriptures? Why is it important that we have both the scriptures and continuing revelation?

  • What examples can you think of when the Holy Ghost helped you in your family, at work or school, or in the Church?

  • Why do we sometimes fail to make full use of the gift of the Holy Ghost? How can we more fully benefit from this gift?

  • Why is the gift of the Holy Ghost such a marvelous blessing to us in today’s world? What can you do to show gratitude for this gift? How can we teach children and youth about the gift of the Holy Ghost?

Related Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 12:3; Jacob 4:8; Alma 5:46–48; D&C 45:56–57; 76:5–10; Articles of Faith 1:9


  1. The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham (1943), 35.

  2. Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 15 Jan. 1878, 1.

  3. Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham (1941), 19–20.

  4. The Gospel Kingdom, 41–42.

  5. The Gospel Kingdom, 43; paragraphing altered.

  6. Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 9 Jan. 1883, 1; paragraphing altered.

  7. The Gospel Kingdom, 35.

  8. Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 7 Mar. 1882, 1; paragraphing altered.

  9. The Gospel Kingdom, 34; paragraphing altered.

  10. The Gospel Kingdom, 35–36.

  11. The Gospel Kingdom, 44–45.

  12. Deseret News (Weekly), 22 Apr. 1863, 338.

  13. Millennial Star, 15 Aug. 1851, 243.