Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 46: Gifts of the Spirit By Michael J. Preece

Section 46: Gifts of the Spirit

This section was given March 8, 1831, the day following Joseph’s receiving of section 45, in response to two needs or questions that had arisen.

The first question was, exactly who ought to be admitted to sacrament meetings. John Whitmer wrote in his history of the Church: “In the beginning of the Church, while yet in her infancy, the disciples used to exclude unbelievers, which caused some to marvel and converse on this matter because of the things written in the Book of Mormon [3 Nephi 18:22-34]. Therefore the Lord deigned to speak on this subject that his people might come to understanding” (HC, 1:163-64, footnote). In verses 3 through 6 of section 46, the Lord commands that no one who desires to attend be excluded from the “public meetings” of the Church, including sacrament meetings.

The second question concerned a problem of major proportions that arose in the Kirtland area in the spring of 1831. There appeared among the saints a variety of peculiar spiritual manifestations and practices. Prior to Joseph’s arrival in Kirtland, the several hundred new converts in Ohio were leaderless. These new converts had joined the Church with little formal instruction and preparation except for a personal witness of its truthfulness. They brought with them considerable baggage—a variety of prior religious experiences and notions. When the four missionaries to the Lamanites left the Kirtland area, they did missionary work among the Quakers (see section 49). They had some success and converted several including Jesse Gause, Reynolds Cahoon, Burr Riggs, and Leman Copley. Once these men became latter-day saints they could no longer remain in the Shaker commune. The only congregation they could turn to was that of the new members in the Kirtland area. Under the influence of these Shaker converts, the worship of the leaderless branch took on the flavor of these erstwhile Quakers.

In the absence of a tempering, authoritative influence, the newly received gospel seemed to act as a catalyst and, like an organism gone wild, peculiar behaviors—both traditional and unique—became epidemic. Prior to his coming to the Ohio, Joseph had sent John Whitmer to preside there. After a short time, John wrote an urgent message to the Prophet that consisted, in summary, of but one word: Help! (The above adapted from James R. Christianson’s essay, “And Now Come . . . Let Us Reason Together,” Studies in Scripture, Volume One, The Doctrine and Covenants, 201).

As reported by John Whitmer:

Some had visions and knew not what they saw. Some would fancy themselves that they had the sword of Laban and would wield it . . . like an Indian in the act of scalping. Some would slide on the floor . . . like a serpent . . . which they termed sailing in the boat to the Lamanites preaching the gospel (Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Lyndon W. Cook, 134).

Parley P. Pratt wrote:

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. In short a false and lying spirit seemed to be creeping into the Church (Autobiography, 61).

These weird and unrestrained spiritual excesses were viewed with delight and relish as fodder by an already hostile press, and most of the revelations Joseph received in the spring of 1831 dealt in some way with this problem (sections 46, 49, 50 and 52).

The major theme of section 46 is gifts of the Spirit. Just what is a gift of the Spirit? It would seem that the concept of “gifts of the Spirit” is associated with some confusion in the Church. There are perhaps three different concepts that merit our consideration all of which might fit into the category of “gifts of the Spirit”:

  1. Free gifts. It would seem that at times the Lord temporarily grants to individuals upon the earth divine abilities. These are not particularly earned through any special effort or accomplishement by the individual to whom they are given but rather are given to the Church to edify the saints. These same gifts might be given to authorized priesthood holders for the purpose of administering the affairs of the kingdom and in order to move the work along. These gifts are not given as signs to non-believers.

  2. Proclivities or “talents” that we brought with us from the premortal world. These were doubtless earned in the premortal world over a long period of time through assiduous effort on the part of each individual who possesses them. We may describe an individual here on earth, for example, as particularly “gifted” in music or art or in a host of other special abilities. These talents were not given as free gifts but were earned gradually “line upon line, precept upon precept.” The individual who earned this type of gift payed the price of assiduous effort and dedication. While the veil between heaven and earth does obscure our memory of these abilities, and to some extend the abilities themselves, the veil is not impenetrable. These abilities, or potential abilities (which is perhaps a better description of their earthly manifestation) do penetrate the veil. We are required to discover them and re-develop them. When we do so, that process is most exciting and fulfilling as these abilities return to us rapidly and with unusual efficacy.

  3. The third type of gifts of the Spirit are those attributes of God and Christ that we may receive by personal revelation in return for our obedience to gospel commands. For a more thorough discussion of this type of gift, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 7, Spiritual Growth—Gifts of the Spirit and chapter 8, The Blessings of Spiritual Gifts.

These gifts are the very essence of our spiritual progress. Indeed, there is no spiritual growth without the ministrations of the Spirit and his granting of these gifts of the Spirit. Our growth toward godhood is measured in the summation of spiritual gifts we are able to earn and receive. These gifts provide us the knowledge, understanding, and divine characteristics that we acquire as we strive toward godhood. We can certainly itemize several including a testimony of the Savior, a witness of the restored gospel, a conviction of the plan of salvation, a testimony of the Prophet Joseph and of the modern-day prophet, and love and testimony of the scriptures. Trying to itemize them, however, is an exercise in futility since our spiritual growth is an individual affair and the lessons we must be taught as we grow—the spiritual gifts we must acquire— are legion. Each individual brings with him from the premortal world an individual level of growth, unique strengths, individual weaknesses, and widely varying knowledge. Our growth in mortality must be individually tailored to suit our unique and individual needs. You may need to be granted a spiritual truth by the Spirit only once, while I may need several tellings.

As you consider the gifts mentioned in section 46 and in Article of Faith 7, you must decide for yourself into which of these three categories of gifts of the Spirit each belongs, though it seems to your author that the Lord is mostly speaking of the free gifts described in category (1) above.

Scripture Mastery

D&C 46 Gifts of the Spirit

D&C 46:11-12 Free gifts—to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

D&C 46:30 He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh.

verses 1-7 These verses were apparently given by the Lord to correct what had become the practice of the Church at that time in excluding nonmembers from its services. With this correction, church practice would then agree with the policy described in 3 Nephi 18:22-33 and perhaps also in Moroni 6:7-9.

1 Hearken, O ye people of my church; for verily I say unto you that these things were spoken unto you for your profit and learning.

2 But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.

verse 2 “notwithstanding those things which are written” Though the scriptures state clearly that nonmembers should not be kept out of meetings of the saints (see 3 Nephi 18:22-33), the Lord teaches that the last word in the meetings is that of the presiding elder and the promptings he receives from the Holy Ghost. The Church is, after all, a “living church” (D&C 1:30), one that receives and responds to the direct revelations of the God granted through the Spirit.

3 Nevertheless ye are commanded never to cast any one out from your public meetings, which are held before the world.

verse 3 The previous verse notwithstanding, here is one principle that must not be violated in sacrament meetings. Certainly, however, any who are disruptive or constitute a danger to those in attendance in the meeting may be asked to leave.

There are, of course, meetings that are not public, such as bishopric and presidency meetings, council meetings, and meetings held in temples. Attendance at these meetings may be controlled.

4 Ye are also commanded not to cast any one who belongeth to the church out of your sacrament meetings; nevertheless, if any have trespassed, let him not partake until he makes reconciliation.

verse 4 “Ye are also commanded not to cast any one who belongeth to the church out of your sacrament meetings” This instruction refers to all members including even those who are disfellowshipped or on probation as well as any who have offended others or who might be deemed unacceptable for any other reason. All members of the Church have a covenant obligation, and therefore a logical right, to attend sacrament meeting—even those who are “out of favor” with their brothers and sisters.

“if any have trespassed, let him not partake” This phrase refers to a member of the Church who attends sacrament meeting who is unrepentantly guilty of serious sin and plans to partake of the sacrament in his sinful and unrepentant state. Elder David O. McKay taught that “to partake of the sacrament unworthily is to take a step toward spiritual death” (CR, October 1929, 14-15). Therefore out of love and concern for the individual, as well as out of duty to maintain the high standards of the Church, presiding authorities should not allow one who is known to be involved in serious sin to partake of the sacrament. It is nothing less than mockery for a person to partake of the sacrament as though renewing sacred promises to keep covenants when that person has no intention of keeping the commandments. A leader who prevents this from happening preserves the sanctity of the ordinance and also protects the would-be partaker from a sin of hypocrisy, mockery, and defiling what is sacred. It therefore is imperative that we each examine ourselves before we partake (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

5 And again I say unto you, ye shall not cast any out of your sacrament meetings who are earnestly seeking the kingdom—I speak this concerning those who are not of the church.

verse 5 It is, of course, altogether appropriate for investigators of the Church to attend sacrament meetings.

6 And again I say unto you, concerning your confirmation meetings, that if there be any that are not of the church, that are earnestly seeking after the kingdom, ye shall not cast them out.

verse 6 “your confirmation meetings” In the early days of the Church it was common to baptize people on one day and then later to confirm them in a public meeting held specifically for that purpose. Today, it is more common for an individual to be baptized and then be confirmed at least a week later in a sacrament meeting.

7 But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.

verse 7 “ye are commanded in all things to ask of God” This verse makes it clear that we are to invite the Lord to be involved in all of the affairs of our lives. It is a commandment to do so.

“that which the Spirit testifies unto you” Perhaps the central and overriding theme of section 46 is the importance of following the promptings of the Spirit in all aspects of our lives.

“considering the end of your salvation” This phrase refers to keeping in mind your ultimate goal of salvation—celestial resurrection and exaltation. As we prayerfully live out our lives, we should give careful consideration to how each of our daily choices will affect our exaltation.

“doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men” It is true that false doctrines may simply be examples of how sincere individuals can follow their own intuitions and get things wrong. Or, they may be actually inspired of Satan.

8 Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;

verse 8 Perhaps the most effective protection against our being deceived is to develop the gift of discernment. When we are in constant communication with the Spirit of God, we become adept at recognizing his promptings. The individual who is constantly prayerful, diligent in his callings, and obedient in his personal life does benefit, virtually daily, from communication with the Spirit of God. Whether the Spirit prompts him in his every-day life, grants unto him the special gifts or favors he needs to fulfill his callings, or sanctifies him through bestowing the earned gifts of the Spirit, he learns to know and recognize the Spirit of God. He is seeking earnestly the best gifts— those communicated by the Lord’s Spirit. It is then difficult for a contrary spirit to connect with him, as he recognizes the difference. He has the power of discernment.

Elder Marion G. Romney warned against supernatural manifestations that are not worked by the power of the Holy Ghost:

The world today is full of counterfeits. It has always been so. Away back in the days of Moses, when Aaron’s rod became a serpent, then Pharaoh’s wise men, sorcerers and magicians “cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents” (Exodus 7:11-12). Isaiah warned against seeking “unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter (Isaiah 8:19) (CR, April 1956, 70-71).

9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.

verse 9 As we speak of gifts of the Spirit in section 46, it seems apparent that we are speaking of those special spiritual blessings and favors the Lord grants to his righteous followers—those “who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do.” The Lord delights to give these gifts freely to those who seek to build his kingdom and those who are striving to obey and serve him. They are not given as signs to convert the nonbeliever. Rather, they are given to the righteous as a reward for their faith. These are likely fundamentally different from those gifts of the Spirit that constitute our incremental spiritual growth (see the introductory discussion for this revelation).

“and him that seeketh so to do” This profoundly important phrase is the key to our being considered righteous and even “perfect” by the Lord. No one perfectly keeps all the commandment all of the time. In fact we all fall well short of this accomplishment. But the Lord knows us perfectly. He does not expect perfection. What he does expect is earnest and diligent striving.

“not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts” The righteous individual who prays for blessings from the Lord and, in fact, succeeds in receiving those blessings, inevitably desires to receives blessings from the Lord for the correct reasons. Most always they desire to bless others in their life or to further the work of the Lord’s earthly kingdom. It is, of course, possible to desire the Lord’s blessings for the wrong reasons. For example, an individual may desire a blessing for the purpose of popularity or influence over others. Or, he may desire a blessing from the Lord to prove to himself that the Lord exists and can give blessings. He may seek after a blessing to prove to all around him that he is worthy of the Lord’s blessings. There are a host of worldly reasons why the proud may desire the blessings of the Lord. We may say that those guilty of pride desire a blessing from the Lord that they may “consume it upon their lusts.” If any person desires blessings in order to benefit themselves, it is unlikely that the blessings will eventually result in the blessing of others.

10 And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.

verse 10 The Lord is about to enumerate some of the gifts of the Spirit which he is willing to provide to members of his Church.

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

verse 11 Beginning here, there is a need for the reader to understand which type of gifts are described here in section 46 (see the discussion of the different types of gifts of the Spirit in the introductory commentary for this section).

Certainly we are not speaking here of talents because talents are not given without prior (in the premortal experience) long-term diligent effort to acquire them. They are not given free of charge to any man, let alone guaranteed “to every man.”

And we are likely not speaking of those gifts of the Spirit that are increments of the attributes of God or Christ and the essence of our spiritual growth. Each of this latter type of gifts of the Spirit must be earned through obedience, and they also do not come with any guarantees.

In section 46, we are speaking of those “free” gifts or blessings that are given to the obedient and righteous as rewards for their faith. These gifts may persist with an individual throughout his mortal life, as long as he remains faithful and righteous, or they may be given ad hoc by the Lord for a specific reason or situation, and the need for the particular blessing may pass. It is most interesting in this verse to learn that the Lord intends to give to every righteous man at least one of these free gifts if he seeks for it in the correct manner.

12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

verse 12 “that all may be profited thereby” The gifts of the Spirit are distributed one to Brother X, some others to Sister Y, and others still to Brother or Sister Z, so the saints will better understand that we need and depend upon each other. The Lord intends us to join together in one body to complement each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. Collectively, we possess all necessary gifts. One person may enjoy the gift of healing, and another the gift of knowledge. Sometimes our leaders ask us to do something that seems not to be one of our gifts so we can grow. In this manner, the Church—all of us together as a group of brothers and sisters—possess every necessary gift. And so it follows that we need each other, each of the members needs the whole body (Romans 12:4-5). By design, no single individual is intended to be spiritually self-sufficient.

verses 13-25 The Lord now enumerates several specific gifts of the Spirit.

13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

verse 13 It is most unlikely that those blessed with this wonderful gift can expect to see the Lord in open vision. They will not possess a knowledge of Jesus Christ that is out of the realm of faith. Faith in or a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ is the result of the Savior’s actually being revealed to an individual by the Holy Ghost. Those with this blessed gift will possess a personal witness or testimony of the Savior that is unusually strong.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

15 And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.

verse 15 “the differences of administration” This phrase is first used in 1 Corinthians 12:5, where the Greek means “the different kinds of ministries” or “differences in ways of serving.” The full sense might be rendered something like “the differences in how God has equipped each of us to serve.” To know these differences of administration is to recognize how God has endowed different individuals with different gifts and with different “styles” or ways of doing things. By extension, it follows that church leaders who recognize the differences of God-given gifts and ways of using them among the individual saints will also know how best to utilize these different individuals for the benefit of all. They possess the gift of administering in the affairs of the Church.

16 And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.

verse 16 “to know the diversities of operations” Again, the Greek behind the parallel at 1 Corinthians 12:6 means the “differences in activities” or the “different kinds of things that go on.” It is a gift of the Spirit to be able to see what is really going on around us, to recognize the operation or activity of an influence, movement, or trend, to know what is at work and whether it is of God. Blessed is the flock whose shepherd has this gift.

17 And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom.

18 To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge.

verses 17-18 “the word of wisdom . . . the word of knowledge” The “word of wisdom” refers to the gift of possessing wisdom and not to the commandment known as the Word of Wisdom.

The “word of knowledge,” in its narrowest sense is merely the ability to assimilate facts or information and to convey that information.

What is the essential difference between knowledge and wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to view, understand, and apply knowledge in its proper long-term perspective—even in its eternal perspective. It is to have both knowledge and judgment, insight, and common sense. It is to be able to apply knowledge for the benefit of oneself and others.

19 And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed;

20 And to others it is given to have faith to heal.

21 And again, to some is given the working of miracles;

22 And to others it is given to prophesy;

23 And to others the discerning of spirits.

verse 23 “the discerning of spirits” The Greek words behind this phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:10 mean “the ability to tell whether a spirit is of God or not.” This is the gift of discernment. Note that a “spirit” does not necessarily refer to a single supernatural being in the usual sense, but may also refer to more general or subtle forces or influences at work in the Church. Thus the phrase “a spirit of rebellion” may not refer to a single evil spirit, but to a general influence upon, or a tendency manifested by, or a feeling detected in many saints at once. This general influence of evil may also be referred to in the singular as a “spirit.” The gift of discernment allows its possessors to analyze also these more general forces and influences at work in a family, ward, or other organization and to know whether they are or are not from God.

24 And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues;

verse 24 There seem to be at least three manifestations of the gift of tongues:

  1. when individuals are enabled to learn to speak with ease and fluency a foreign but known language (see Acts 2);

  2. when persons are enabled to speak the pure or Adamic language; and

  3. when persons speak under the influence of the Holy Ghost, they speak with the tongue of angels. They speak what God or his ministering servants would speak if they were present. The prophet Joseph Smith cautioned the saints about the gift of tongues. He explained that it is one of the least of the gifts but generally the one most sought after (TPJS, 246). He warned that Satan may seek offer his own counterfeits in order to deceive the people (Ibid. 25, 229).

25 And to another is given the interpretation of tongues.

26 And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.

27 And unto the bishop of the church, and unto such as God shall appoint and ordain to watch over the church and to be elders unto the church, are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.

verse 27 Bishops in the Church have available to them the gift of an uncommon degree of discernment.

28 And it shall come to pass that he that asketh in Spirit shall receive in Spirit;

verse 28 “He that asketh in Spirit” is one who asks for a gift of the Spirit for appropriate reasons. This verse, then, simply says that he who prays appropriately for a gift of the Spirit will receive that gift (see verse 30).

29 That unto some it may be given to have all those gifts, that there may be a head, in order that every member may be profited thereby.

verse 29 He who presides over the Church possesses all necessary free gifts. He also has an abundant of those spiritual gifts incident to his considerable spiritual growth.

30 He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh.

verse 30 Part of the process of acquiring gifts of the Spirit is to possess the gift and discernment to know which gifts we need “according to the will of God.”

31 And again, I say unto you, all things must be done in the name of Christ, whatsoever you do in the Spirit;

verse 31 As fallen and sinful beings, we cannot expect to command the powers of heaven in our own unworthy names. Christ alone in his perfect and infinite righteousness is worthy of the great blessings and powers of heaven. Therefore, when we act, pray, or speak in the name of Jesus, we acknowledge that we do so as those who have become one with him, and that we are his servants exercising his rights and powers with his permission. Since Christ is the only perfectly sinless, righteous, and worthy being, it is his name only that can command the powers of heaven, but he allows those who are his to “take his name upon them” and to use its power in his service.

32 And ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with.

verse 32 Let us never neglect the necessity of expressing gratitude for the blessings we do receive (D&C 59:21).

33 And ye must practise virtue and holiness before me continually. Even so. Amen.

verse 33 The gifts of the Spirit are available to all who will pay the price, which includes obeying the commandments—practicing “virtue and holiness before me continually,” seeking perfection with all one’s heart, and entering into a covenant relationships with the Lord. These covenants are made at the time of partaking of the sacrament as we commit ourselves to repent of specific ways in which we fall short of the Savior’s example. The gifts will be the greatest in those who seek most earnestly. They are available to all within the Church who have been baptized by water and by the Spirit. George Q. Cannon wrote of spiritual gifts that seem to fit into both the “free gift” and spiritual growth categories:

How many of you . . . are seeking for these gifts that God has promised to bestow? How many of you, when you bow before your Heavenly Father in you family circle or in your secret places contend for these gifts to be bestowed upon you? How many of you ask the Father, in the name of Jesus, to manifest himself to you through these powers and these gifts? Or do you go along day by day like a door turning on its hinges, without having any feeling upon the subject, without exercising any faith whatever; content to be baptized and be members of the Church, and to rest there, thinking that your salvation is secure because you have done this?

If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections. If I am an angry man, it is my duty to pray for charity, which suffereth long and is kind. Am I an envious man? It is my duty to seek for charity, which envieth not. So with all the gifts of the gospel. They are intended for this purpose. No man ought to say, “Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.” He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them (Millennial Star, April 1894, 260­61).

Brief Historical Setting

John Whitmer was named church historian in March 1831 [D&C 47 -John Whitmer Named Church Historian].

During the spring of 1831, the New York saints continued to arrive in the Ohio territory. The concern of those already in Ohio was: “Where will we put them? Where will we find sufficient land for them?” The Lord gave counsel [D&C 48 -Land for Gathering in Ohio].

- Michael J. Preece