Section 50: Teaching By The Spirit
The missionaries called to proselyte among the Lamanites (see section 32), after successfully preaching the gospel in the Kirtland area and converting many, had left the Kirtland area about November 1, 1830, to continue westward on their mission. The newly converted saints in the Kirtland area were left mostly to themselves until Joseph arrived in Kirtland about February 1, 1831. Their natural leaders, Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge, had traveled to Fayette in December 1830 to see the Prophet Joseph and had remained in New York. We have commented previously on the false influences and beliefs that had crept in among the Kirtland saints. Satan had sought to take advantage of their inexperience and lack of strong local leadership by encouraging these false influences among them. We have previously discussed the peculiar spiritual manifestations that became rampant among these Ohio saints (please review the background materials for sections 28, 43 and 46). Parley P. Pratt, having just returned from his missionary excursion to the Shakers in May of 1831, encountered the manifestations of false spirits, and he quickly found that he did not know how to handle them:
As I went forth among the different branches, some very strange spiritual operations were manifested, which were disgusting, rather than edifying. Some persons would seem to swoon away, and make unseemly gestures, and be drawn or disfigured in their countenances. Others would fall into ecstasies, and be drawn into contortions, cramps, fits, etc. Others would seem to have visions and revelations, which were not edifying and which were not congenial to the doctrine and spirit of the gospel. In short, a false and lying spirit seemed to be creeping into the Church.
All these things were new and strange to me, and had originated in the Church during our absence [from Kirtland], and previous to the arrival of President Joseph Smith from New York.
Feeling our weakness and inexperience, and lest we should err in judgment concerning the spiritual phenomena, myself, John Murdock, and several other elders went to Joseph Smith and asked him to inquire of the Lord concerning these spirits or manifestations. After we had joined in prayer in his translating room [Joseph was working on his inspired revision of the Bible], he dictated in our presence the following revelation. Each sentence was uttered slowly and very distinctly, and with a pause between each sufficiently long for it to be recorded by an ordinary writer in long hand (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 61-62).
In this way and under these circumstances, section 50 was received for the Church on May 9, 1831.
Parley P. Pratt’s description of Joseph’s receiving of section 50 might mislead some into thinking that the revelatory process was simply one of Joseph’s taking spiritual dictation from the Lord. Such a simplistic view might lead one to believe that once written down, a revelation could never be altered or edited since it was the directly dictated words of the Lord. Indeed, Parley P. Pratt went on to say: “This is the manner in which all his written revelations were dictated and written . . . as he dictated them, so they stood” (Ibid, 62). We know that all Joseph’s revelations have undergone editing and alteration after their initial writing. Joseph himself edited them, and many have been altered since Joseph’s death. Brother Pratt’s observations are thus misleading, in a sense. While he may have described accurately Joseph’s receiving section 50, his description falls short of explaining to us the process whereby we now possess the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants in their current form. Orson Pratt said: “Joseph the Prophet, in writing the Doctrine and Covenants, received the ideas from God, but clothed these ideas with such words as came to his mind” (Minutes of the School of the Prophets, Salt Lake Stake, December 9, 1872, 3). Thus we learn that revelation is a process, not an event. Revelations are usually given a little at a time— line upon line.
Section 50 provides for us helpful guidelines in discerning “false spirits” or manifestations that are not from God. It has become also an important missionary section, as it teaches us much about the importance of teaching the gospel using the vital influence of the Spirit of the Lord.
D&C 50 Teaching By the Spirit
D&C 50:13-15 Unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel. And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?
D&C 50:17-22 He that preacheth and he that receiveth . . . are edified and rejoice together.
D&C 50:23-24 That which is of God is light, and the light groweth brighter until the perfect day.
1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, and give ear to the voice of the living God; and attend to the words of wisdom which shall be given unto you, according as ye have asked and are agreed as touching the church, and the spirits which have gone abroad in the earth.
verse 1 “the voice of the living God” The living God is, of course, Jesus Christ.
“the words of wisdom” Any counsel from the Lord might be appropriately referred to as words of wisdom. This phrase has nothing to do, of course, with section 89.
2 Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.
verse 2 “false spirits” It is likely that these false spirits are a combination of the natural man himself with his predictable inclination for ostentatious and overtly sensually gratifying religious expressions, those among the members who are deliberate deceivers, and the influences of Satan and his minions. These false spirits may encourage false ideas, false doctrines, and false practices of worship.
3 And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.
verse 3 Apparently Satan is able to orchestrate counterfeit spiritual experiences for some individuals, even members of the Lord’s Church. Joseph Smith once observed: “Nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the spirit of God” (HC, 4:573).
4 Behold, I, the Lord, have looked upon you, and have seen abominations in the church that profess my name.
verse 4 This verse implies a culpability on the part of those involved in false religious practices.
5 But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life.
verse 5 Just as the previous verse lays blame on those involved in false religious practices, in this verse the Lord affirms those who, by virtue of their righteousness, remain pure in their ideas, doctrines, and worship practices. They are not deceived by those influences that would lead them astray.
6 But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment.
verse 6 Whenever the Church of Jesus Christ has been on the earth, there have always been spiritual pretenders and spiritual deceivers to be found in the Church. The word hypocrite means stage actor or one who plays a part. These pretenders would have others believe that they have spiritual gifts which they don’t actually possess. Some of them manage to remain undetected by the rest of the saints or by their leaders. Consequently, it follows that no idea, doctrine, literature, or business proposition should be accepted simply because it is promoted by a member of the Church, for it is not church membership or association that is the test of trustworthiness but habitual and observable compliance with the accepted principles of righteousness. These hypocrites can do great damage to other weaker members of the Church who are often brought to believe they represent the Church.
7 Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed;
verse 7 “such shall be reclaimed” The deceived or disillusioned shall be reclaimed, but not the deceivers, for the unrepentant hypocrites and pretenders will be cut off from Christ and his Church either in this life or the next (see the following verse).
8 But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world.
verse 8 “the same are overcome of the world” Once an individual is cut off from the Lord’s Church, the spirit is withdrawn, and influences of the world inevitably overtake and dominate them.
9 Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.
verse 9 The spirit of appropriate worship in the Lord’s Church is to be conservative: avoid exaggeration, embellishment, or overly dramatizing. Our religion must be what we really believe, what we really feel, and what we really are—not a role we adopt for church occasions.
10 And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand;
verse 10 “let us reason together” We have previously commented on this phrase (see the commentary for D&C 45:10). The Lord has an agenda for each of us. It is, above all else, that he wants to live with us forever after this life. He wants us home. When he reasons with us, his intent is not to face us with cold and unbiased logic. Rather, it is to attempt to convince us of the eternal benefits of becoming and remaining his people. He will do all he can, within the limits placed on him by our needing a fully mortal experience, to ensure that we have every chance to get home.
11 Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face.
verse 11 In this verse the Lord indicates the personal, one-on-one relationship he would like to maintain with each of his children.
12 Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.
verses 12 The Lord wants us to clearly understand his counsel, hence he condescends to reason with us on our level. “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24).
13 Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained?
verse 13 “unto what were ye ordained” Joseph Smith received section 50 in the presence of “a number of elders” (HC, 1:170). It would seem that the Lord is speaking directly to those elders. The Lord answers his question in the next verse.
14 To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.
15 And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified?
verses 13-15 The Lord gently rebukes his servants for having trouble discerning these false manifestations. The implication is that if the elders there present had been worthy of the influence of the Holy Ghost, they would have had no trouble with their spiritual discernment.
16 Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.
verse 16 The Lord evidences his kindness and long suffering for these fledgling members of the Church in Kirtland.
verses 17-22 In these six following verses lie the very essence of powerful gospel teaching—teaching by the Spirit of God.
17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
19 And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?
20 If it be some other way it is not of God.
verses 17-20 These verses are concerned with the teaching of spiritual truths and not secular truths. They explain that spiritual truths may be taught and received by the Spirit of God or without the Spirit of God. Both the speaker of spiritual truth and the hearer of spiritual truth may or may not be in tune with, or possess, the influence of the Spirit of God at the moment of teaching. God’s way of teaching and hearing is for both the teacher and hearer to possess the Spirit of God. If either the hearer or the teacher is not in tune with the spirit, then the teaching is “not of God.”
A spiritual truth spoken or received without the Spirit of God may be mentally understood, but it will not affect an individual’s thinking and behavior. Though he may give mental assent to the truth, he will not act on it.
The influence of the Spirit of God not only allows an individual to accept spiritual truth and be profoundly influenced by it, but it also allows him or her to discern the difference between truth and error. The basis of the power of spiritual discernment is the Spirit of God.
21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.
verses 21-22 To be edified is to be spiritually taught, built up, added to.
If either the speaker or the hearer of truth lacks the influence of the Spirit, then there is no spiritual connection made. There is no spiritual edification or uplift. On the other hand, if both the speaker and the hearer of spiritual truth possess the influence of the Spirit of God—that is they both respond to his influence—then both the speaker and hearer are jointly edified. This is the ultimate achievement in gospel teaching.
The young missionary in the Church today simply must learn the principle contained in these verses. If he or she can teach the principles of the gospel in a way that allows the Spirit to bear witness to him or her (to the missionaries themselves) each and every time they teach them, they then provide the investigator with the best possible chance of feeling the Spirit’s influence. If the missionary is successful, then “both [the missionary and the investigator] are edified and rejoice together.”
23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.
verse 23 The hearer who is responsive to the influence of the Holy Ghost is automatically a discerner of truth. They can identify what is true and edifying and also what is untrue and not edifying. They can avoid that which is dark and untrue (see verse 25).
24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
verses 24 As we grow spiritually we receive through personal revelation increments of the attributes of Christ and our hearts are changed so that we become new creatures. In so doing we actually are allowed to partake of the light of Christ. Increments of his light become our light, and in this way we grow to become like him. For a discussion of this fascinating topic see The Concept of Light in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 15.
25 And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;
26 He that is ordained of God and sent forth, the same is appointed to be the greatest, notwithstanding he is the least and the servant of all.
verse 26 “He that is ordained of God and sent forth, the same is appointed to be the greatest” He who possesses the fulness of the gospel, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the priesthood of God, and the ordination to preach is a teacher and leader over all those who do not have these qualifications no matter how young or unlearned he may be.
“notwithstanding he is the least and the servant of all” But keep in mind the profound truth that all who lead in the kingdom of God, in contrast to leaders in worldly organizations are servants to those to whom they minister just as Jesus Christ, who presides over our universe, is the servant of all (Matthew 20:25-28).
27 Wherefore, he is possessor of all things; for all things are subject unto him, both in heaven and on the earth, the life and the light, the Spirit and the power, sent forth by the will of the Father through Jesus Christ, his Son.
verse 27 “he is possessor of all things; for all things are subject unto him” The righteous and diligent Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is on the Lord’s errand is entitled to call upon all of the powers of heaven for help. The Lord’s ministering angels are subject to him. He may call upon all of the resources of heaven including the light of Christ and the power of God.
28 But no man is possessor of all things except he be purified and cleansed from all sin.
29 And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done.
30 But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask; and as ye are appointed to the head, the spirits shall be subject unto you.
verse 28-30 Let us not make the mistake of believing that a man must be perfect before he can receive all of the blessings of heaven as he engages himself in the work of the Lord. The key is that he is honestly and diligently trying to overcome himself. He is striving to live the commandments, and seeking sincerely to serve the Lord. Then, by virtue of the Savior’s atonement, he is regularly justified and sanctified as he covenants to keep the Lord’s commands and as he keeps those covenants. This cleansing is accomplished on an ongoing basis by the Spirit of God through the ordinance called the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. The reader is referred to the discussion of the three parts of the ordinance of baptism. See Baptism—the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18. As the individual is thus cleansed, he is then considered by the Lord to be “perfect” (Moroni 10:32-33).
This individual may then ask in righteousness for anything necessary to perform his calling, and receive it. The man who is properly in tune with the Spirit will have his prayers answered because he is prays for things which are appropriate (see the commentary for D&C 46:30).
“as ye are appointed to the head” This phrase means “as you are ordained to lead.”
31 Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.
verse 31 “if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand” Those who are in the service of the Lord will sometimes find themselves in situations that are spiritually uncomfortable. If they are uncertain as to the true nature of the situation, whether it is of God or not, then they can petition the Father who will assist them in discerning the situation. Perhaps it is desirable in this verse to interpret the word “spirit” in a broader sense. Evil situations can arise for various reasons. Certainly they may be the direct result of the ministrations of an evil spirit—one of the followers of Satan himself. They may also be the product of the potential evil that is intrinsic in man—the natural side of each individual. This natural tendency of all men, when unchecked by the Spirit of God can result in an evil “spirit” whether or not Satan or one of his adherents is directly involved.
32 And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God—
verse 32 The diligent servant of God is given power both to discern and to rebuke an evil situation, an evil spirit.
33 Not with railing accusation, that ye be not overcome, neither with boasting nor rejoicing, lest you be seized therewith.
verses 33 “Not with railing accusation . . . neither with boasting nor rejoicing” Keep in mind that the Lord’s servant operates by virtue of the priesthood which is borrowed power from God. The servant does not function by his own power. Thus, he must not allow himself to lose his proper humility. He is merely the servant or instrument of God. A loss of proper perspective or humility in this matter can lead to a loss of priesthood power (D&C 121:43-44).
34 He that receiveth of God, let him account it of God; and let him rejoice that he is accounted of God worthy to receive.
verse 34 “let him account it of God” Let he who receives blessings from God give thanks to God for those blessings (D&C 59:21).
35 And by giving heed and doing these things which ye have received, and which ye shall hereafter receive—and the kingdom is given you of the Father, and power to overcome all things which are not ordained of him—
verse 35 “these things which ye have received, and which ye shall hereafter receive” The Lord refers to the revelations (commandments) in the Doctrine and Covenants—those which the saints had already received and those which they would yet receive.
“and the kingdom is given you of the Father, and power to overcome all things which are not ordained of him” This parenthetical promise of the Lord is contingent upon the individual’s “giving heed and doing these things which ye have received, and which ye shall hereafter receive.”
36 And behold, verily I say unto you, blessed are you who are now hearing these words of mine from the mouth of my servant, for your sins are forgiven you.
verse 36 This promise—that the Lord will forgive the sins of those gathered to hear Joseph receive this revelation—is also contingent upon the Lord’s commandment to be obedient in the previous verse.
37 Let my servant Joseph Wakefield, in whom I am well pleased, and my servant Parley P. Pratt go forth among the churches and strengthen them by the word of exhortation;
verse 37 “my servant Joseph Wakefield” Joseph Wakefield, from Watertown, New York, was apparently a convert in the New York period. In this verse he is called to be a companion to Parley P. Pratt in visiting the branches of the saints in order that they might rebuke the adverse spirits and correct the errant practices that had appeared. Joseph Wakefield was excommunicated in 1834. Among other things, he was offended that Joseph Smith once came out of his translating room in Kirtland and immediately began playing with children, a practice he thought incompatible with the dignity and high office of a prophet (see Cook, Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 69, 134).
38 And also my servant John Corrill, or as many of my servants as are ordained unto this office, and let them labor in the vineyard; and let no man hinder them doing that which I have appointed unto them—
verse 38 “my servant John Corrill” Baptized four months earlier in January of 1831, John Corrill is also called on a mission. Like Joseph Wakefield, Corrill was among the first group of men to be ordained to the office of high priest on June 3, 1831, a month following receipt of this revelation. Corrill became disaffected in Missouri and was excommunicated from the Church on March 17, 1839.
39 Wherefore, in this thing my servant Edward Partridge is not justified; nevertheless let him repent and he shall be forgiven.
verse 39 “in this thing my servant Edward Partridge is not justified” Apparently Bishop Partridge had attempted for some reason unknown to us to interfere with the missionary callings confirmed by the Lord in verses 37 and 38. His mistake may have been due to inexperience. He had been in the Church less than six months at the time. Here he is assured that he will be forgiven if he repents of his error.
40 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.
verse 40 The Lord reminds the church members there assembled that they are as yet immature in their gospel understanding. They needed to grow spiritually.
41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
verse 41 The Lord also assures the members of his deep affection and intimate relationship with them. Those obedient to their covenants are “given” by the Father to Jesus Christ to become Christ’s children.
“I have overcome the world” We are able to overcome the world by striving diligently to keep the commandments. If we endure, we will be exalted by virtue of the Savior’s atonement. The Father’s expectations of his only begotten Son were far higher. In order for the Savior to overcome the world he had to live a sinless life and then atone for all of the sins of mankind. Because he has “overcome the world” we can take heart and be at peace, for his atonement will cover for our deficiencies. We can “overcome the world” far more easily than he did. He has made it all possible.
42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.
verse 42 As far as Jesus is concerned if those members remain faithful, they will not be lost. There is, of course, the issue of their agency, and we have already learned that Joseph Wakefield and John Corrill apparently will lose their inheritance.
43 And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
verse 43 Let us not speak glibly about this verse and suppose that we thoroughly understand it. It is likely that there is something, and perhaps many things, about the oneness of the Father and the Son that we simply don’t understand—indeed, that we are not as yet given to understand (see the commentary for D&C 93:3). We are taught in this verse that we have an opportunity to share in this exciting oneness!
44 Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.
verse 44 “the stone of Israel” Here the Savior identifies himself as “the stone of Israel.” In scripture he is often referred to as the “rock” or “stone.” This implies that he is our “sure foundation,” firm supporter, refuge, fortress of impregnable strength (see Genesis 49:24; Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; Psalm 118:22; Matthew 7:24; 21:42; John 10:11; Alma 5:38-39; 3 Nephi 11:39-40).
45 And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am.
verse 45 This exciting pronouncement has a few possible interpretations. It may refer to the Lord’s second coming wherein those righteous on the earth and the righteous who are caught up to meet him will see his face. Or it could refer to a private audience with him which might occur here on earth, as we enter the world of spirits (2 Nephi 9:41; Alma 40:11-14), or as we are resurrected and meet him at the great and last judgment.
46 Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready. Even so. Amen.
Brief Historical Setting
The Colesville saints arrived in the Kirtland area from New York in the spring of 1831, and a recent convert, a former Shaker by the name of Leman Copley, allowed them to move onto his land in Thompson, Ohio, about twenty miles outside Kirtland (see D&C 49 and its commentary). In May of 1831 the Lord commanded the Colesville saints, while in Thompson, Ohio, to begin to live the law of consecration [D&C 51 -Law of Consecration].
- Michael J. Preece