I recently read the claim made in a well circulated article that the reason Nephi saw Lehi’s dream was because he would write it down for the rest of us. This is part of a common group of misunderstandings. It is a group of ideas that goes something like this:
God calls prophets (not based on their virtue per se, it is a calling, like Sunday School teacher)
They receive revelation because they have been called as prophets. (Being a prophet merits them the right to revelation)
Regular people don’t receive revelation, because they aren’t called as prophets.
Ugh, ugh, ugh.
The great revelations in the scriptures were:
(1) generally given primarily as a means of saving the individual to whom they were given, and not as a means of communicating information to the masses. As evidence of that I would point out that
(2) almost all were kept completely private, we have only a glimpse of what a few of them contained, except those that were specifically direction from the Lord addressed to a person or group of people other than the revelator,
(3) They were not given based on someone’s calling but on someone’s proper preparation – if you can receive revelation on the basis of your calling rather than on the basis of proper preparation then the apostacy should never have happened, because genuine revelation could continue in a priesthood made up of apostates.
(4) The world has revelation through the Lord not because he arbitrarily called some as revelators, but because some were so good that they were able to obtain revelations. That is the way things work. The Lord didn’t need Joseph Smith to give the first vision. But he did need someone as good as Joseph Smith to receive the first vision. We weren’t benefited by the Lord’s arbitrarily calling one person, instead we were benefited by one person being so faithful that the Lord could speak to him. And that is why the Lord chose to call him. And thus it is with all revelation. We obtain it not because the Lord bestows it capriciously, but because men sincerely seeking him learn to hear his voice. And of course it is such men that he chooses. It is the same way we obtain salvation. One person, Jesus Christ, was so faithful that he could redeem us from sin. It was by the virtues of an individual that we can be redeemed. It is by the virtues of an individual that the door to revelation is opened. Without sufficient faith to open the heavens, God could do no such miracle among them.
Are most of the great manifestations in the scriptures primarily for the sake of the individual receiving it, or for some other group? They were mostly for the salvation of the person actually receiving the revelation at the time. And in fact, we don’t even have the vast bulk of the contents of them. That is because they were for the salvation of the person experiencing them. Take Joseph Smith in the sacred grove who only gives us a tiny glimpse of what he experienced, stating only that he was told a great many other things. His main account doesn’t even inform of the many angels that participated, which he mentions elsewhere. Or take Moroni’s nighttime appearance to Joseph Smith. One can read all that is recorded and referenced there three times without staying up the entire night long, or even without getting to bed late – the vast bulk of the instruction he received isn’t passed on to us because it wasn’t for us that it was given. In both cases it was for Joseph Smith’s own salvation that he was seeking in prayer, and the vast bulk of what was received was given for exactly that purpose and for no other, and hence was passed on to no other individual.
Christ communed with God for 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, but we hear nothing except that it happened. Why not? Wasn’t he out getting revelation for us?
Joseph Smith taught that:
All men know that they must die. And it is important that we should understand the reasons and causes of our exposure to the vicissitudes of life and of death, and the designs and purposes of God in our coming into the world, our suffering here, and our departure hence. What is the object of our coming into existence, then dying and falling away, to be here no more? It is but reasonable to suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and it is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study it day and night, for the world is ignorant in reference to their true condition and relation. If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject. Could we read and comprehend all that has been written from the days of Adam, on the relation of man to God and angels in a future state, we should know very little about it. Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 324).
Notice what this is teaching. The first half is that there is critical knowledge that we need to gain, and that if we have any claim on our God it is for that knowledge. But the second half tells us that while we ought to study it day and night, still “reading the experience of others, or the revelation given the them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God.” Put differently, the knowledge that we need and have a claim on God for in the first half is also knowledge that cannot be gained by reading about other’s experiences and revelations. He concludes that “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.” And that is the whole point. You can’t gain the knowledge promised in the first half by reading about it. You have to gaze into heaven five minutes on your own.
Do men get revelations because of their calling, or because of their worthiness? Take Enoch, who had no calling that we can tell when the Lord spake to him from heaven, then showed him visions of things to come. Take Deborah. Take Nephi, who had no calling. On what basis did Nephi believe he could see visions?
1 Nephi 11:1 “For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart…”
Wait, it had nothing to do with a calling to preside over millions of people? What a weirdo. Only a weirdo would think that the reason we have the gift of the Holy Ghost is because:
John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things …
and that the very purpose of receiving the Holy Ghost is so we can come to know God through personal revelation:
No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator. (Teachings page 328)
If the Holy Ghost is only to confirm the occasional question, and warn of occasional danger, then it seems like pretty serious overkill to give us companionship of which we read:
Moses 6:61 Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
Can’t one see by looking at this that this isn’t just the Holy Ghost’s resume’? It is a description of the reason we are given his companionship.
Joseph Smith said:
“But I am learned, and know more than all the world put together. The Holy Ghost does, anyhow, and He is within me, and comprehends more than all the world: and I will associate myself with Him.” (Teachings page 350)
The point is for us to get the Holy Ghost. To get it powerfully enough that we know more than all the world put together because we have associated ourselves with him, the truth of all things, which has all power. We can tell when we are beginning to get the Holy Ghost because it always comes with revelation. The Holy Ghost is a revelator and no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelation.
One of the the things we learn through the Holy Ghost is just what kind of a being Jesus Christ and God the Father are. We learn their character. We kind of assume we all already know that. But I would defy that notion, because Joseph Smith said.
When we begin to learn this way, we begin to learn the only true God, and what kind of a being we have got to worship. Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and how to come to him, he begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to him, he is ready to come to us. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 349)
Put differently, when we really do understand the character of God and how to come to him, he begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. If God isn’t unfolding the heaven’s and telling us all about it as he did to Moses in Moses 1, then we should step back and realize that, according to Joseph Smith, we don’t yet know the character of God and how to come to him. I am in that boat myself. But it is far better to be in that boat, and recognize it, than to be in the boat, and assume the opposite is true.
Revelation is not received outside of one’s own worthiness and preparation. Whom you can instruct by a statement of revelation depends upon your calling. But you cannot receive revelation above your general worthiness and preparedness just because you got a calling. Callings made by the priesthood do not and cannot substitute in place of the virtue and spiritual preparation of the recipient. If they could, there would have been no great apostacy. They could have just kept on going, worthy or not because they had a certain calling. A calling may inspire a person to take his responsibilities more seriously, or get him doing work that will prepare his mind for revelation, but the calling itself does not grant revelation outside of one’s own worthiness and preparation.
Having covered this, we are in a position to clearly understand what is being taught in the last half of 3 Nephi 11. So let’s go ahead since we are in a position to.
We learn the Christ’s doctrine is not to stir up the hearts of men, but to do such things away.
3 Nephi 11:30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
We tend to assume that what Christ is saying is that we are never to contend in any way. But then, there is captain Moroni, and the Lord’s own commandment to content for the gospel truth in the doctrine and covenants.
The Lord’s doctrine is that such things shall be done away. But his method of arriving there is not that we just all decide to be one with everybody. His method for achieving that is critical. Otherwise, we have reduced Christ’s doctrine to the hippy chorus “all you need is love” which President Monson spoke so demeaningly of not long ago in General Conference.
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
The phrase “beareth record” does not mean that they each will verbally speak in favor of the other two. It means that each one is in every way like the other as far as what they would choose to do in any matter involving good and evil. It means, as Christ put it, that if his disciple’s had seen him, they had seen the Father. If they knew what Christ would do, then they knew precisely what his Father would do, not one bit more or less. It means that each is a complete and perfect representative of the other in every matter that touches on good and evil. Christ’s doctrine is one in which the member’s of the Godhead each bear record of each other in that sense.
But then he goes on that his Father commands everyone to repent, believe in Christ, and be baptized. Why? Because that is the path to becoming one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in the same way that they are one with each other.
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
So here we have it more clearly. He again calls it his doctrine, just as above when he said his doctrine was to do away with contention. But here, he has gone further and given us a fuller statement of his doctrine that says HOW he will do away with contention.
His doctrine is that the Father bears record of Christ by visiting those who are baptized with the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost then bears record of the Father and the Son. How? Well, because the more we have the Holy Ghost, the more we know the true character of God far above and beyond what we could learn by simply reading about Christ. To whatever degree we can get the Holy Ghost, to that degree we know who the Father and the Son are. If we can get the Spirit, then we know what they would do, and to that degree, we become one with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Christ’s doctrine is that we repent, are baptized, and must really grow into the gift of the Holy Ghost. Insofar as we do then we are following his doctrine. Insofar as mankind does, there will be no contentions among them, because they will individually bear record of the Father and the Son, and will thereby become one. His plan is that we repent, are baptized, and really get the Holy Ghost into our lives. And to whatever degree we do, to that degree we begin to become one with the Father and the Son.
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
We cannot inherit the kingdom of God without being baptized and receiving the kingdom of God, because we cannot inherit the kingdom of God without becoming one with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as they are one with each other, and we cannot do that unless we have the gift of the Holy Ghost.
And there is much more to it than that. Growing into the gift of the Holy Ghost is growing into the principle of revelation. A man cannot receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. As we get the Holy Ghost we get to know the character of God, and it is only after that he can begin to unfold the heavens and tell us all about it. Somewhere in there maybe we can show forth faith more like a Nephi who simply stated:
1 Nephi 11:For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord …
Back to 3 Nephi 11 we next read
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
So apparently this doctrine matters. If we are trying to teach this doctrine and build on it, then we are in a good place. But if we are teaching that revelation is only for prophets, we aren’t building on a good foundation. Our foundation needs to be the doctrine of Christ: repentance, baptism, and then becoming one with the Godhead as we get the Holy Ghost in our lives and he bears record of them to us.