Why do we need to learn by the Holy Ghost? Why can we not just echo what the modern prophet said and be done?
Well, first and foremost, it is because we can’t really get it right, we can’t make the pieces fit into their place properly without the Holy Ghost. The rest of christianity has three quarters of a million words from the prophets and with all that it is not enough for them to find the truth. Truth requires the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost for man to receive and rightly understand it. If you have revelation in hand, or God’s teachings in front of you, you will be at a loss to apply it and understand how it fits properly and fitly framed with the rest, and sometimes at a loss to even understand its plainest intention unless by the aid of the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost. And the whole rest of Christianity can’t do it with the bible, so it isn’t a task to take lightly.
But another reason also appears plainly in Joseph Smith’s teachings. Joseph Smith taught:
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen. (Jan. 20, 1844.) DHC 6:183-185.
Why did these members go to pieces like glass? They suffered so much for the kingdom, but they preferred their traditions to the Holy Ghost. And that is a key matter. We are given the gift of the Holy Ghost for a reason. If we will prefer it to our traditions, then what can it not teach us. But if we prefer our traditions to learning by the Holy Ghost, what can be done for us? By and by, something will come along that is contrary to our traditions, and we will fly to pieces like glass.
We must live to have the Holy Ghost, or our path will end in sorrow. We must be learning by the spirit, or we are not really learning anything but the rote teachings possessed by all Christian faiths which have no real power to save them.
And we will not be able to recognize a new truth that goes against our traditions, and will fly to pieces like glass when it comes.
Joseph Smith also taught:
Many men will say, “I will never forsake you, but will stand by you at all times.” But the moment you teach them some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God that are retained in the heavens and are to be revealed to the children of men when they are prepared for them they will be the first to stone you and put you to death. It was this same principle that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ, and will cause the people to kill the prophets in this generation.
Now that is a fascinating teaching right there. “It was this same principle that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ.” What principle? That many men will say “I will never forsake you, but will stand by you at all times” but the moment Joseph taught them some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God those same men sought to be the first to stone him and put him to death.
Because they did not accept the teachings of the Holy Ghost. Certainly when Joseph Smith taught them some of the mysteries the Holy Ghost testified to their hearts that he spake the truth. Certainly Joseph taught by the power of the Holy Ghost. But that wasn’t good enough for them. They hadn’t learned to learn that way, or at least, not to believe in it.
We know we need to gain a testimony by the Holy Ghost, but we seem to think he is a butler that shows us the way in to the gate, but then does little else but warn and comfort us. But the Holy Ghost is a revelator, no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. If we think we have the Holy Ghost without revelation, we are fooling ourselves.
Joseph smith continued his teaching:
Many things are insoluble to the children of men in the last days: for instance, that God should raise the dead, and forgetting that things have been hid from before the foundation of the world, which are to be revealed to babes in the last days.
If there are things hid from the foundation of the world that are to be revealed in the last days, then there are things to be revealed in the last days that cannot possibly be part of the traditions that we already have. And these things are to be revealed to babes in the last days. The Lord will not withhold anything from the saints as soon as they are ready to bear it.
Joseph Smith continued:
There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake.
Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe.
We must not be too wise to be taught. We must be able to listen to the Holy Ghost, and recognize truth for ourselves. Harold B Lee rightly said that the only safety lies in living so that we have the Holy Ghost with us. We must not say to God “So far God may reveal and I will believe” for we when we seal the door of revelation, we seal the door of heaven against our own entry.
We must not just be echos of the brethren, we must learn to be like the brethren. We must learn to teach by the Holy Ghost as we hear them do. We must learn to live to carry the Holy Ghost with us as we see them live. For where else did you think they would most lead us than to the place where we can testify independently of ourselves, having learned the truth of the matter and understanding it as plainly as they do by the same means that they did: by the gift of the Holy Ghost.