Section 130: Items of Instruction by Joseph Smith
After two years of having to live in seclusion to prevent his being apprehended by his enemies, Joseph finally was blessed with a brief period of peace in the spring of 1843. During those few months, he directed much of his energy and attention to visiting several outlying settlements where many members of the Church had settled. The most frequently visited village was Ramus, Illinois, located twenty miles east of Nauvoo.
The town of Ramus was founded by Joel H. Johnson, an early friend of the Prophet’s when they both lived in Kirtland. The town was called Ramus because ramus is the Latin word for “branch.” and there was a branch there as soon as the Church was organized. In 1839 nearly all of its eventual five hundred inhabitants were Mormons. By 1840 a stake was organized, and Joel Johnson was called as stake president. Soon Ramus became the largest and most prosperous of the several outlying settlements outside Nauvoo.
Harmony prevailed in Ramus for two years, but then some of the church members—even some of the leaders of the stake—formed a secret clan and sought to retaliate against the enemies of the Church in Ramus by stealing from them. This destroyed the unity of the stake. Eventually the stake was dissolved, the members of the secret clan excommunicated and punished by the law, and Ramus was demoted back to the status of merely being a branch of the Church.
In March 1843, Brigham Young wrote to the Ramus branch and requested contributions of provisions for Joseph Smith’s family to allow Joseph more time to work on spiritual matters. He promised those saints abundant blessings if they complied. The Ramus saints responded immediately and generously with five teams loaded with provisions and grain.
Brigham’s promise that these Ramus saints would be blessed spiritually for their generosity was realized in ample measure during the next two months, as they “sat at the Prophet’s feet” and received the sacred items of instruction contained in sections 130 and 131.
Benjamin F. Johnson, the younger brother of the town’s founder Joel Johnson, lived in Ramus. He was twenty-four years old in 1843 and was a close friend of the Prophet. Whenever Joseph visited Ramus, he stayed at the “Bennie” Johnson home. Joseph delivered many of his now famous instructions found in sections 130 and 131 in the Johnson home.
On Saturday, April 1, 1843—the day before the date assigned to Section 130— Joseph, his scribe William Clayton, and Orson Hyde of the Twelve, arrived in Ramus. Early the next morning, Joseph took Bennie Johnson for a walk in the nearby woods so that they might have a private talk. Joseph introduced Benjamin to the principle of plural marriage which he had received earlier by revelation. Joseph then shocked Benjamin by asking if he might help convince his sister Almira Johnson to become one of Joseph’s plural wives. Seeing that Bennie was upset, Joseph reassured his young friend and prophesied that he would soon receive a testimony of the principle (Johnson, My Life’s Review, 85-93).
The next morning, a public meeting was held, and Elder Orson Hyde was the speaker. He used as his text John 14:23 wherein the Savior promised that if a man will live the gospel, then the Father and the Son “will come unto him, and make [their] abode with him.” Elder Hyde interpreted this verse thus: “It is our privilege to have the Father and the Son dwelling in our hearts” (HC, 5:323). The Prophet discerned this as false doctrine, and at lunch Joseph told Orson that he would like to offer some corrections to Orson’s speech when Joseph spoke that afternoon. Joseph wrote: “We dined with my sister Sophronia McCleary, when I told Elder Hyde that I was going to offer some corrections to his sermon this morning. He replied, ‘They shall be thankfully received’” (HC, 5:323).
Joseph did preach in the afternoon and evening meetings. His words were recorded by his scribe. In time, the records of these two sermons were recorded in the History of the Church. The first seventeen verses of section 130 are Joseph’s corrections of Orson Hyde’s sermon. If we had the complete text of Brother Hyde’s sermon, we might better understand the reasons for Joseph’s replies. Verses 18 through 23 form a synopsis of both Joseph’s sermons. In 1876 portions of those speeches were extracted from the History of the Church by Orson Pratt and included in the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Section 130 is a miscellany or potpourri of different subjects. It contains a variety of short answers to short questions. As we go through the verse commentary, we will postulate the questions that were asked. Most of the answers are self-explanatory and are understandable without comment. Those verses that are most notable will be particularly mentioned to help you, the reader, familiarize yourself with their locations.
D&C 130 Items of Instruction by Joseph Smith 7
D&C 130:2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there.
D&C 130:18-19 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
D&C 130:20-21 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven . . . upon which all blessings are predicated.
D&C 130:22-23 The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.
1 When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.
verse 1 Question: What is the Lord going to look like when he comes?
Orson Hyde had taught in his morning sermon on April 2, 1843, based on Revelation 19:11-12, 1 John 3:2, and John 14:23, that the Savior “will appear on a white horse as a warrior, and maybe we shall have some of the same spirit. Our God is a warrior (John 14:23). It is our privilege to have the Father and Son dwelling in our hearts” (HC, 5:323). Obviously Joseph perceived some ambiguity in this statement of Orson Hyde’s which he wanted to correct.
In this verse the Prophet confirms the veracity of New Testament statements regarding the Lord’s appearance at his second coming—see 1 John 3:2 and Acts 1:11. We learn that at the Lord’s second coming he will appear as a being like ourselves. Together with the information Joseph received in the First Vision, this verse clarifies that God and humans are the same species of being at different stages of progression, the Father and the Son having been glorified while we have not. This is the doctrine of deification, which holds that human beings may, through the grace of God, grow to be like God by being glorified with his glory and being made “partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.
verse 2 Question: What will our social order be like when the Lord comes and lives among us?
Sociality is the way in which human beings relate to each other. The same social relationships we experience here in mortality will continue in the eternities. “Sociality” is not a word normally used to describe relationships between beings of different species. When Christ comes again, we will not be his pets or his creatures. We will be his friends and family, for friendship and family relations are the highest and greatest expressions of sociality (see Mosiah 5:7; Ether 3:14-16; Romans 8:14-17).
Moreover, life in the resurrection will be much like righteous living is here and now, with similar types of activities and relationships. Our existence then will still be recognizable as a glorified extension of the best of human life as we know it in mortality. Orson Pratt taught that “a saint, who is one in deed and in truth, does not look for an immaterial heaven, but he expects a heaven with lands, houses, cities, vegetation, rivers, and animals; with thrones, temples, palaces, kings, princes, priests, and angels; with food, raiment, musical instruments, etc; all of which are material. Indeed, the saints’ heaven is a redeemed, glorified, celestial, material creation, inhabited by glorified material beings, male and female, organized into families, embracing all the relationships of husbands and wives, parents and children, where sorrow, crying, pain, and death will be known no more” (Millennial Star 28 [17 November 1866]: 722).
“only it will be coupled with eternal glory” Conditions after the second coming of Christ will include the best aspects of life as we now know it, but it will also include some measure—either celestial or terrestrial—of eternal glory. The reception of eternal glory in the resurrection of the just will make us even more like the Savior himself and, therefore, further increase the quality of sociality possible among us. This glory is likely the “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” which Paul looked forward to receiving in the resurrection in addition to the reunion of his spirit and body (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).
3 John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.
verse 3 Question: Can the Father and the Son really get into our hearts and live with us?
“The appearing of the Father and the Son . . . is a personal appearance” It is apparent from the historical record that Orson Hyde had interpreted John 14:23 to mean that the Father and the Son can actually personally dwell in the heart of an individual. But since the Father and the Son have physical bodies (verse 22), this is clearly impossible. Only a spirit can enter into and dwell within a physical body. Joseph here clarifies, as he knew from his own personal experience, that the Father and the Son can and do under certain circumstances appear to human beings.
Joseph further taught that the coming of the Father and the Son referred to in John 14:23 is associated with a person’s receiving the Second Comforter (Cannon and Dahl, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 97). In his instructions to the Twelve given four years earlier, Joseph had taught concerning the text of John 14:23, “Now what is this other Comforter? It is not 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” (Ibid., 619).
“an old sectarian notion” “Sectarian” here means pertaining to one or more of the various divisions into which traditional Christianity had become divided. The word usually has a negative connotation describing a schismatic or heretical departure from the mainstream. In this case it refers to the beliefs of the various non-LDS denominations that resulted from the apostasy of the primitive Christian Church.
4 In answer to the question—Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside?
verse 4 In this particular verse, the prophet Joseph asks (or reiterates) the question. This question was asked by William Clayton, perhaps during lunch at the home of the Prophet’s sister Sophronia, which took place between the ten and one o’clock meetings in Ramus (see Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 169; HC, 5:323-24). Clayton asked whether time is reckoned differently depending on the sphere whereupon a man dwells.
“God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time” Brother Clayton’s question also has other implications. For example, the question makes the assumption that God lives on a planet, and it seeks for Joseph’s confirmation of this fact. It also suggests that angels may come from other, perhaps various, planets. The implication of “prophet’s time” is uncertain. “Man’s time” refers to the time as reckoned on earth.
Joseph answers the question in verse 4 with the first three words of verse 5.
5 I answer, Yes. But there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it.
verse 5 Question: Are all “angels” individuals from our earth, or do some come from other worlds?
“I answer, Yes.” We may assume from Joseph’s answer that time is reckoned according to the planet on which a man presides. That is, a year is the time it takes for the particular planet to revolve around its sun. A day is the time it takes for the planet to rotate once on its axis. Because of the subtle implications of Brother Clayton’s question in verse 4, we may also assume from Joseph’s answer that God does live on a planet. Abraham 3:2-4 suggests that the sphere on which God lives rotates on its axis once every one thousand earth years (see also Facsimile 2, Figures 1-5; 2 Peter 3:8).
Also we are taught that all the resurrected beings, translated beings, premortal spirits, or spirits in paradise who have ministered to this earth as heavenly messengers or “angels” were once mortal beings on this earth or will yet take a body and live on this earth. The Prophet also taught that persons from this world who are translated may be sent during the time between their translation and their resurrection “to be ministering angels unto many planets” (Cannon and Dahl, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 674).
6 The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth;
verse 6 We would presume that the word angels in this verse refers to resurrected celestial beings (see also verse 7). It may also refer to translated beings and premortal spirit beings. Post mortal paradisiacal spirits do live on this earth in the spirit realm. Translated beings appear to live on a terrestrial sphere somewhere and are dispatched to come to earth as they are needed. Premortal spirits apparently live on the celestial planet where God is. Resurrected celestial beings also live on a celestial planet.
7 But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe 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.
verse 7 Question: Where do angels live? Obviously the angels here described live on a celestialized sphere. Presumably Joseph is speaking here of those resurrected beings who act as angels or perhaps to premortal spirits who function as angels. We would not expect post mortal spirits or translated beings to live on a celestial sphere.
“on a globe like a sea of glass and fire” This terminology describes a celestial sphere that has already passed through a process of change similar to death and resurrection and has been glorified in the same way that the earth will eventually be glorified. At least part of the process of this change involves “fervent heat” (see 2 Peter 3:12). Just as sand becomes glass when heated and purified, so the earth, when glorified, will be a new, celestial globe “sanctified and immortal” (verse 9) like that upon which God now dwells.
According to Brigham Young, “This earth, when it becomes purified and sanctified, or celestialized, will become like a sea of glass; and a person, by looking into it, can know things past, present, and to come; though none but celestialized beings can enjoy this privilege. They will look into the earth, and the things they desire to know will be exhibited to them, the same as the face is seen by looking into a mirror” (JD, 9:87). Certainly this description of the celestial earth raises several questions for which we have no answers presently. It is difficult to understand, for example, the implications of a crystalline earth which functions as a Urim and Thummim (see verse 8) which allows the inhabitants to know all things.
“all things . . . past, present, and future . . . are continually before the Lord” We know from verse 4 that God lives in a realm where one of the variables is time. Time is a factor on God’s planet and in his life. How then is he able to continually know the past, present, and future. It seems less likely that he is able to actually see into the future, than that he is able to accurately predict the future in intimate detail because of his perfect perception of his creations through his perfect ability to read their light.
8 The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
verse 8 Question: What is God’s dwelling place like?
“a great Urim and Thummim” This quality of God’s celestial planet is difficult for us, intuitively, to understand, but it is probably best explained in Brigham’s quotation in the commentary for verse 7. As that quotation claims, for the inhabitants of God’s celestial planet, “the things they desire to know will be exhibited to them.”
9 This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
verse 9 Question: Joseph, tell us more about what the earth will be like after it is celestialized.
“will be made like unto crystal” Brigham Young described the change that will occur when the earth is celestialized in these terms: “When it becomes celestialized, [the earth] will be like the sun, and be prepared for the habitation of the saints, and be brought back into the presence of the Father and the Son. It will not then be an opaque body as it now is, but it will be like the stars of the firmament, full of light and glory: it will be a body of light” (JD, 7:163). Statements like this have raised the question of whether or not, those who inherit celestial glory will actually live on a star. Furthermore, one wonders whether the somewhat ambiguous description of the great governing star Kolob, described in Abraham 3:2-4, is in fact a star near unto the celestial planet or whether it is the celestial planet.
“all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order” It is tempting, to interpret these “kingdoms of a lower order” as the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms. However, if that is what it means, then what could “a higher order of kingdoms” mean in the next verse? Are there kingdoms higher than the celestial?
Perhaps an appropriate explanation of “kingdoms of a lower order” or “kingdoms of a higher order” would be that there are many levels of progression within the celestial kingdom—stages of progression of glory. After all, we do read in the gospel of John “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2). This idea seems to be supported by remarks of Joseph Smith in the King Follett discourse: “When I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children” (Cannon and Dahl, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 296).
“this earth will be Christ’s” Though Jesus Christ is the creator of many worlds, he lived his mortal life upon this earth and performed his infinite, atoning sacrifice here. Thus, this earth is his “home world” and his very own in a broader sense than are the many other worlds he has created. The celestial earth may even be peculiarly “his” in the same way that Kolob or the planet nearest Kolob is said to be the Father’s.
verses 10-11 Question: What of the white stone and the new name mentioned in Revelation 2:17 and Isaiah 62:2?
10 Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
11 And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.
verses 10-11 “white stone” Everyone who inherits the celestial kingdom will receive “a white stone,” which will be for them a personal or private Urim and Thummim—perhaps a personal computer terminal. They will also have access to the earth itself which will become a public Urim and Thummim common to all who dwell upon it. Information concerning lower kingdoms will be available to all through the public Urim and Thummim—the celestialized earth itself—while information concerning higher kingdoms will be revealed privately through the white stone according to each individual’s readiness for further light and knowledge.
“new name” In the ancient world, gemstones engraved with secret names were considered talismans of personal power (see Fitzmyer Brown and Jerome Murphy, Biblical Commentary, 2:473-74). The apostle Peter was thought of as a celestial gatekeeper in early Christianity because he held all the keys of the kingdom and, therefore, had the power to open or shut its gates (Matthew 16:13-19). Similarly, the white stone engraved with the correct word or name symbolizes one’s personal, private key that not only reveals things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms but is also the key or “key word” that allows one to pass the gatekeeper at the portal and enter into the celestial kingdom (see D&C 132:19).
With tongue in cheek, we may suggest that the “new name . . . which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it” sounds a lot like a password that we so frequently use today to access our various sources of information.
verses 12-13 Question: Are you certain, Joseph, there will be a war between the states as prophesied in section 87?
12 I prophesy, in the name of the Lord God, that the commencement of the difficulties which will cause much bloodshed previous to the coming of the Son of Man will be in South Carolina.
13 It may probably arise through the slave question. This a voice declared to me, while I was praying earnestly on the subject, December 25th, 1832.
verses 12-13 See the commentary for D&C 87:1-4 for a discussion of this prophecy.
verses 14-17 Question: Joseph, when will the Lord come? Please tell us, Joseph!
14 I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:
verse 14 “the time of the coming of the Son of Man” Joseph’s teaching here, regarding the time of the Lord’s second coming, was helpful to the saints. During the Nauvoo period, speculation was rife concerning the date of the Lord’s advent. Many millennial prophecies were in the air. Much national attention was being paid to one William Miller who had predicted Christ’s coming on April 3, 1843, just one day after Joseph gave these instructions contained in Section 130. Thus, the Latter-day Saints were intensely interested in the question of the date of the Savior’s appearance. Joseph also was caught up in the question and often referred to William Miller in his conversations. Thus Joseph’s instructions in verses 14 through 17 were timely.
Joseph was convinced that the Savior would not come again prior to 1890—the year when Joseph would have been 85. This prophecy was welcomed by the saints and served as effective counterpoint to the false views of William Miller. On the following day, April 3, Joseph remarked, “Miller’s day of judgment has arrived, but it is too pleasant for false prophets” (HC, 5:326).
Joseph was unsure of how to understand the “eighty-five years” in verse 15, while others in the early Church rashly concluded that the second coming would occur by 1890, when Joseph would have turned eighty-five. However, Joseph Smith was martyred in Carthage at the age of thirty-eight. Therefore, since the condition in verse 15 was not met (that Joseph live to be eighty-five), neither could the conditional consequence be assumed to follow.
“I heard a voice repeat the following” This verse and the following three verses refer to a revelation Joseph received at some unknown time before section 130 was received. We may speculate that Joseph Smith’s prayers “troubling” the Lord on this topic (verse 15), occurred sometime before March 1831, the date of section 49, the revelation that finally settled the matter. At a later time, the prophet Joseph firmly stated that “Jesus Christ never did reveal to any man the precise time that he would come” (Cannon and Dahl, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 625).
15 Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter. 16 I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face. 17 I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.
verses 14-17 For us today it suffices to know that no man knows the day or the hour when the Savior will return (Matthew 24:36; D&C 49:7).
verses 18-19 Question: If we study diligently and learn as you do, Joseph, will it help us in the next life? Also, if we obey the Lord’s commandments diligently and receive the commensurate gifts of the Spirit (spiritual growth), will those godlike characteristics remain with us in the life following our resurrection?
18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
verse 18 “Whatever principle of intelligence” Intelligence is not the same as I.Q. or even the secular knowledge we obtain through study. Intelligence is the amount of spiritual growth, the light and knowledge, the increments of the attributes of God which an individual has received due to his “diligence and obedience” relative to the commandments of God. Secular knowledge of truths, of course, is not entirely separate from spiritual knowledge (intelligence), since we know that to the Lord all things have spiritual implications (D&C 29:34-35).
We have concluded previously that at our death there are just two things we take with us our spiritual growth and our relationships with man and God. We may add a third—those memories we formed here on earth.
19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
verse 19 “he will have so much the advantage in the world to come” It may be that though all of the elect will be exalted and inherit “all things,” they may not all necessarily come to enjoy their full inheritance at the same time or at the same rate of speed (D&C 88:28-29). Indeed, the individual white stones, or Urim and Thummim, would seem to imply individual rates of progress even in eternity. Joseph Smith taught that exaltation “is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same” (HC, 2:8). He also taught that “when you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Cannon and Dahl, The Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 519). Doctrine and Covenants 78:18 similarly tells us that even though the riches of eternity are ours, “ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.” And in the process, those who are more intelligent through their “diligence and obedience” will have an advantage.
verses 20-21 Question: How do we grow spiritually; how do we earn the increments of the attributes of God that we need to grow spiritually?
20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
verse 20 The blessings spoken of in this verse are the gifts of the Spirit, the increments of spiritual growth, the portions of the attributes of God that a man may receive in response to his obedience of the commandments. We learn that for each of those gifts there is a specific set of commandments which must be obeyed. See a detailed discussion of the process of spiritual growth in Spiritual Growth—Gifts of the Spirit and The Blessings of Spiritual Gifts in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapters 7 and 8.
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
verse 21 “it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” It is important to acknowledge that even though a man must “earn” these blessings through his obedience, they remain gifts mercifully given by the Lord. The gifts or blessings far exceed that which is actually earned.
verses 22-23 Question: What are the men in the Godhead really like physically?
22 The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.
verse 22 “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” The Father and Son are resurrected beings whose spirit and flesh are “inseparably connected” (D&C 93:33) “never to be divided” (Alma 11:45). Their bodies consist of flesh and bones, but they lack blood, the element associated with mortal life (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:23). Joseph Smith had taught earlier in Nauvoo that resurrected bodies had “spirit” or even “the spirit of God” in their bodies rather than blood (HC, 6:366; Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 270; Wilford Woodruff Journal, 20 March 1842, 17).
Many modern Christian denominations have abandoned the physical resurrection of the Son, or the idea that he still has a permanent, corporeal body in spite of Romans 6:9 which avers, “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.” “Latter-day Saints perceive the Father as an exalted Man in the most literal, anthropomorphic terms. They do not view the language of Genesis as allegorical; human beings are created in the form and image of a God who has a physical form and image (Genesis 1:26)” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:548).
“the Holy Ghost . . . is a personage of Spirit” Millions of people now living on the earth have been confirmed and given the gift of the Holy Ghost by proper priesthood authority. It should be noted that it is not the man, the individual whom we know as the Holy Ghost, who attends all these persons simultaneously but rather his power or influence (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 61). However, there are apparently certain occasions when the Holy Spirit may actually “dwell in us.” Since the Father and the Son are corporeal beings, and two physical objects apparently cannot occupy the same space, it is necessary for one member of the Godhead to be a spirit, the Holy Spirit, in order to “dwell in us.” Unlike another body, a spirit, whether holy or unholy, may, when conditions are right, enter into our physical bodies and dwell for a time “in us” (see also Mark 9:25-29). The wording of this entry in the William Clayton and Joseph Smith diaries also states additionally that the Holy Ghost cannot be specifically contained in our hearts, thus affirming that none of the Godhead “dwell[s] in a man’s heart” according to the “sectarian doctrine” (verse 3).
The Holy Ghost is a spirit man, a spirit child of our Father in heaven, who has not yet received a physical body but remains in the premortal state. Thus, verse 22 returns to the point of verses 1-3, that all three persons of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—are beings like ourselves, though with different degrees of glory and at different stages of eternal progress.
23 A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.
verse 23 Even though an individual may have received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands and may be personally faithful and worthy, it is not always up to us when we shall enjoy the influence, presence, or gifts of the Spirit. That is up to the Spirit himself. A saint “may often be left to his own spirit and judgment” when it suits the will of God (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 60-61). On occasion, God may want us to learn to make decisions on our own or to undergo a time of testing and trial. Even the Savior, in order to fulfill his Father’s will, was denied the presence and support of the Comforter at a certain point during his suffering on Calvary (Matthew 27:46; D&C 88:106).
verses 22-23 Why has Joseph waited until 1843 to give us this doctrine? Didn’t he learn that God and Christ had flesh and bone bodies when he saw them in vision in 1820 in the sacred grove? It would appear that his knowledge of the Godhead evolved slowly over a period of months and years and that he did not, in fact, have a clear idea as to the nature of the Godhead when he emerged from the sacred grove in 1820.
Brother Hugh Nibley, commenting on the plain and precious doctrines that were lost during the Great Apostasy, said:
The first casualty was literalism. The most learned of the Christian fathers acknowledged that the literal sense is repugnant for every principle of faith as well as reason. You must never take anything literally in the Bible. They deem themselves secure and invulnerable behind the ample veil of allegory. You say a thing one way, you mean it another way. Allegory is different meanings. The classic example from the scriptures is where they speak of God’s coming and going. It can’t possibly mean that. It is given another interpretation. It doesn’t mean that he has eyes; it just means there is an awareness there. He can’t be like us in any sense. When it says we are in his image, they would say that’s allegorical. The very first of the fathers that started this were men like Origen and Irenaeus. Their favorite term was the ‘visible image of the invisible God.’ He is in the image of man, but he is invisible. Of course, an image is something that you can see, but an invisible image is what God is, they claimed. It’s like saying soundless music or odorless perfume. It’s a contradiction in terms to say an invisible image. Behind the veil of allegory is where they have lived ever since. Joseph Smith came along and gave us a very different story. He says he really saw the angel and gives us a clinical account, how he looked, where he stood, etc. (Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price, a FARMS publication, lecture two).
Shortly before Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, he stated, “It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another” (TPJS, 345). Elsewhere in the scripture we learn that only those who come to know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ” whom the Father sent will inherit eternal life (see John 17:3). The student of the gospel may ask, “It is interesting to know that God is a man with a physical body, but why is this fact so overridingly important?” Is it really so harmful to one’s spiritual progress to fail to know the physical characteristics of God and the other members of the Godhead? It is the essence of true religion to know our true identity as literal spirit offspring of God in whose express image we exist. Given this knowledge, then what we are commanded to do is strive to be just like him and come home to him. We are of his very species and we share a rich, personal, and loving paternal relationship with him. Indeed, we seek a divine unity with him. Without knowing his character, we cannot ever realize the fundamental fact that we have entered into a binding and eternal covenant with him. In doing so, we pledge to replicate within our own characters and life those attributes and principles he personifies. This is why the resurrected Savior asked his Nephite disciples the rhetorical question: “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). In his intercessory prayer, Jesus prayed that all who believed on his name “may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). This divine unity is the grand objective of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. For while men may, of themselves, achieve a measure of goodness as the world defines the term, no one can achieve holiness in any other way than by lawfully taking upon himself the redeeming name of Christ in the only Church on Earth authorized by him to act in his behalf (see D&C 1:30; 23:7). Those who do so will inherit a mansion in the celestial kingdom. For they have become sanctified through “the law of Christ” (D&C 88:21). Becoming holy, they are prepared to dwell with the “Man of holiness” forever. Is it important to know the true character of God? Indeed it is!
- Michael J. Preece