How do you know if you have received the Holy Ghost?
October 1972

“How do you know if you have received the Holy Ghost?” New Era, Oct. 1972, 40–41

“How do you know if you have received the Holy Ghost?”

Answer/Leonard J. Arrington

Psychologists tell us that a fundamental problem with young people today is identity. Apparently, young people go through what is called an identity crisis—a crisis in which they seek to determine who they are or what they are. This seems particularly hard for many young people to do today because of the rapid changes to which they are exposed and the speed with which identities are transformed.

Of most significance to each person is that fundamental and crucial stage at which he establishes a viable relationship with his fellow creatures, with the universe, and with God. In religious terms this process of identity realization sometimes corresponds to, or is equivalent to, what we may call the second baptism, or baptism by fire. The Apostle John wrote that in order to gain salvation every person must receive two baptisms—the baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit. (John 3:3–5.) For most of us, the water baptism took place when we were eight years old. Upon our confirmation, usually a day or two later, we were told to receive the Holy Ghost. The vast majority of us, however, felt no miraculous transformation; nor were we mature enough at that time to acquire a firm conviction of the gospel’s truths.

This awareness of the presence of the Holy Ghost and firm testimony of the truth of the gospel usually comes between the ages of 15 and 25. Indeed, a young person raised in a home where the Holy Ghost is present might feel its presence from birth. Thus, President Joseph Fielding Smith stated that he couldn’t remember when he didn’t have the Holy Ghost. President McKay, on the other hand, stated that as a young man he prayed for the Holy Ghost, and it came to him over a period of time in the performance of his duties. With some of us, it creeps up almost imperceptibly, until in one meaningful moment of insight we see ourselves as part of a great divine plan. We then understand who we are, why we are here, where we are going, and what we must do. We establish an identity that confirms to us that God lives, that he is aware of us and loves us, and that we are acceptable to him.

This realization of selfhood, this moment of self-discovery, this awareness of God and his interest in us, sometimes moves us to tears, sometimes inspires us to exalted rhetoric or poetry, and almost invariably motivates us to adopt praiseworthy goals. As we look back on it, the establishment of our identity—our acquisition of a testimony—our second baptism—was determinative; it led us to happy activity in the Church, in school, and in our chosen occupation. Paul had such an experience on the road to Damascus; Joseph Smith had one in the sacred grove in Palmyra; many of you had such an experience during your last year in high school, first year of college, or during the first few months of your mission. My own experience came when I was reading in the library at the University of North Carolina where I had gone to pursue a Ph.D. in economic history.

If it is a true visitation of the Spirit, our second baptism causes us, in the words of Helaman, to be “filled as if with fire.” (Hel. 5:45.) The fountain of our soul explosively gushes forth as if from a secret spring whose overburden has suddenly been pushed aside.

The letters, diaries, and autobiographies of past Church leaders contain many descriptions of this baptism of the Spirit. One of these was written by Lorenzo Snow, later an apostle, and still later a president of the Church. Elder Snow wrote that immediately following his immersion in the waters of baptism at the age of twenty-two, he expected to receive the Holy Ghost, and to have the promise fulfilled that he would “know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” (John 7:17.) But Elder Snow did not receive this assurance immediately. He began to worry whether he had done wrong—whether God was displeased with him. Several weeks later, while studying the scriptures, he felt depressed and disconsolate. He left the house and walked outside, tormented by uncertainty and enveloped by “an indescribable cloud of darkness.” He had been in the habit of going to a small grove every evening to have secret prayer. On this particular day he was so dejected that he “felt no inclination” to pray. “The heavens seemed like brass over my head,” he wrote. Nevertheless, he forced himself to pray, and soon he heard a sound “like the restling of silken robes” above his head:

“… immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge … I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, and of the fulness of the gospel. It was a complete baptism—a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion of water.”

God had conferred upon him, he concluded, “that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow.”1

Lorenzo’s sister, Eliza, author of some of our favorite hymns and later the president of the Relief Society of the Church, had a similar experience:

“On the 5th of April, 1835, I was baptized by a ‘Mormon’ Elder, and in the evening of that day, I realized the baptism of the Spirit as sensibly as I did that of the water in the stream. I had retired to bed, and as I was reflecting on the wonderful events transpiring around me, I felt an indescribable, tangible sensation … commencing at my head and enveloping my person and passing off at my feet, producing inexpressible happiness.”2

The records of the Church contain numerous stories of these second baptisms—these attainments of identity, these intimations of the divine presence. From these moments onward, the person thus blessed knows for certain that God lives, that the gospel is true, that the Church is a divine institution, and that one’s personal potential for exaltation is strengthened by his wisdom and righteousness. If one has such a conviction, he has received it through the ministrations of the Holy Ghost.


  1. “How He Became a Mormon: From Lorenzo Snow’s Journal,” Juvenile Instructor. XXII (January 15, 1887), pp. 22–23.

  2. Eliza R. Snow: An Immortal (Salt Lake City, 1957), p. 6.

  • Leonard J. Arrington, Church Historian