As Saints, we have been directed by the Prophet to increase our personal capacity for revelation. With that increase in personal revelation Satan also has an increased opportunity to deceive with false spirits and false revelations. It is our responsibility to learn some basic rules about receiving and using personal revelation.
The manual for personal revelation
Personal revelation is just that, personal. There is no manual with concise and detailed guidelines for what to expect, how to achieve the revelations, or what to do with them when they come to us. Just like all things of a spiritual nature we are required to study it out in our mind, search the scriptures, and the writings of the prophets, both old and modern. In the course of our studies we will find hints, principles, rules, etc. These we will have to piece together on our own and in our own way.
Think of learning how to have personal revelation like learning how to raise a child. Since there is no manual that tells us how to raise children we have to learn through trial and error (often mostly error) how to do it correctly. And the problem with raising children is that each child is so different in temperament and disposition that what works with one child may not work at all with another child. There simply is no revealed pattern that works in every case.
As an example I refer you to any prophet in the Old Testament. Pick one! Adam raised Seth and Abel, both righteous men. He also raised Cain, who was obedience challenged. Lehi raised four very righteous sons, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph. But Lehi’s eldest sons, Laman and Lemuel had problems believing and obeying anything but their own desires till their dying day. Almost every prophet, even Abraham, had children who went astray or were rebellious. Every parent mourns over that child or those children they feel they have failed in some way, yet all parents do the best they know how when it comes to raising their children.
Personal revelation is the same as raising our children, in that we do our best, but it takes years of experience to learn many of the spiritual intricacies of how to listen to the Spirit and how to wisely know what to do with what we have received.
Basic rules and patterns
Since there is no definitive rulebook for receiving and using personal revelation, we need to look at the scriptures and the writings of the modern prophets to see what patterns we can find that we can use as guidelines to help us on our way. Here are 6 basic guidelines I have found in my reading. You will probably think of many more you have seen in your studies of the scriptures and the words of the modern prophets.
It’s a tailored experience
No two children can be raised exactly the same way, because no two children are exactly the same. Even with the same instructions, both children will take away different assumptions and expectations. And both children would go about fulfilling the instructions differently. This makes finding something that is “absolute” difficult to put into words. I believe this is why the Lord hasn’t given us a manual, but expects us to learn how revelation works for each of us. How I get my revelation is not how you get yours. Neither method is better or worse, just suited to us as individuals.
Even universal instructions, like that given to Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 are received and dealt with individually, according to how we each experience the Spirit.
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must it out in your ; then you must me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your shall within you; therefore, you shall that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is save it be given you from me.
My point from this guideline is that even though the instructions for receiving revelation may be generic, we have no business doubting or questioning how another person receives their revelation, just because it is probably different from how we receive our own revelation. To dismiss another’s way of receiving revelation is to discount our own method. We should always be careful about putting restrictions on what God is “allowed” to do.
Guidelines for sharing
Some of what we receive from the Spirit is meant to be understood only by those who have also received that witness. Our individual testimony of the divinity of Christ or of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon are in this category. Every person has to receive their own witness of these truths.
Other revelations are based on our position, such as a Church calling or as the head of our family. As one of the joint heads of a family, both the husband and wife need to seek the same revelation for the guidance of their parenting and care of the children. The Lord is not going to tell one parent to head in one direction and the other in a completely different direction. We can expect to receive confirmations from the Spirit when we are acting in unison.
Personal revelation is generally kept personal, and not shared publicly, unless directed by the Spirit to do so. The exception to this is when the information being shared is general spiritual knowledge, like that the Book of Mormon is true.
The guiding principle here is that revelation is what is called the mysteries of heaven or the mysteries of godliness. The Lord is very protective of those truths that identify Him and His personality. He wants us to know them, and the scriptures even tell us that without that knowledge we cannot ever become like Him. But this knowledge is sacred and not to be shared with just anyone, nor is it to be discussed lightly or frivolously.
There are instances where the Brethren will approach a talk and tell the audience that the Spirit has directed them to share a very private experience they had with the Spirit. They make it clear that if they had not been directed to share it, it would have remained private knowledge. Sometimes we are too free with our sharing. There is a reverence that needs to accompany any new spiritual revelation. Personal revelation may be an expected part of our lives as latter-day saints, but we also need to remember that the Lord expects us to have the same reverence for much of that protected information that we would have for our Temple covenants. We hold it dear and don’t share unless the Spirit tells us it is needed. And we don’t gossip about someone else’s shared experience.
Restrictions and order
All things spiritual are done in order. The Prophet is the only one who can speak for God in all things for all the children of men. A Stake President can only receive revelation for his own stake, and a parent for their own family members, and an individual can only receive revelation for themself alone. A President can receive revelation for anyone in their organization as it relates to that organization.
No regular member of the Church can have revelation for the whole Church, as demonstrated below.
“Revelation to Oliver Cowdery, given at Fayette, New York, September, 1830.
“‘… Behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this Church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses. And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him. …
“‘And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; for I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead. …
“‘And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me, and that Satan deceiveth him; for, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.
“‘For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.’ [D&C 28:2–3, 6–7, 11–13.] …
This revelation leads us to our next guideline.
When we embark on the road to personal revelation we must also accept the responsibility to check ourselves often to make sure we are in line with the teachings of the prophets, especially the living oracles of God. I see nothing wrong with a little healthy fear of accepting and teaching false doctrine. As a general rule of thumb, if you cannot document a prophet who is currently teaching the doctrine, or there is an official church policy on the doctrine then don’t teach it.
One of the BYU-Provo professors of religion created a Facebook post that included quotes about the idea of progression between kingdoms after the resurrection. Three quotes were in favor of the idea and stated emphatically that there was progression between kingdoms, and three quotes emphatically denounced the idea of progression between kingdoms. All six quotes were from Apostles. Finally, he quoted a Church policy given by the prophet back in the 60’s that stated the Church does not have a policy on that doctrine because the Lord has not revealed that knowledge one way or the other.
This means that anyone who positively teaches progression between kingdoms after the resurrection is teaching false doctrine. And anyone who positively teaches no progression between kingdoms after the resurrection is also teaching false doctrine. It is easy to accept a notion and run with it, just because someone high up in the Church expresses their opinion, especially when they present themselves forcefully.
It is difficult for us to imagine that we could be a party to a deception like Hiram Page was in the quote above. But remember that not only Hiram, but others high up in the church believed that what Hiram was receiving was real revelation from God. This is why we need to constantly study and check our knowledge and beliefs. If we don’t then we may end up accepting beliefs that are false that could lead us astray.
Beware “false apostles”
In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul is warning the Saints in Corinth of those who are preaching false doctrine. He refers to them as “false apostles.” Here are five verses that talk about those who preach their own doctrine. In verses 3-4 he warns of those who change the truth with subtle nuances that manipulate the truth for their own purposes. He tells them clearly that if ‘you haven’t heard it from me or one of the missionaries I have sent you then don’t believe them.’
3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the Eve through his , so your minds should be from the that is in Christ.
4 For if he that cometh preacheth another , whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another , which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. …
In verses 13-15 he makes an interesting comparison. If Satan has the ability to represent himself as an angel of light then why should we wonder that those teaching false doctrines may have transformed themselves into “ministers of righteousness”?
13 For such are , deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.
14 And no marvel; for himself is transformed into an of light.
15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose shall be according to their works.
I saw a post online where a woman claimed that she knew for a fact who an additional member of the Godhead was. She even went on to claim that it was self evident in the scriptures and if you went to the Temple that this was true. She then said that she had experienced multiple revelations of a heavenly being we only know exists, but know nothing about. In this posting she claimed that it was a “Brother of Jared experience.” In other words, she was saying she had so much faith that she couldn’t be kept out of the heavenly veil and received visions multiple times. What was left unsaid was that, just like the Brother of Jared experience, if you don’t have the required faith you will never have it revealed to you. If a prophet teaches such a thing it is one thing, but when a regular member of the Church makes such an assertion it becomes an exclusive private club of one, for how many of us have the faith to have such a thing revealed to us. We can place no faith in such a claim as that.
What bothered me about this post was that she was ignoring all the guidelines for personal revelation. If it hasn’t been taught by a current prophet as official doctrine then we have no business teaching it as doctrine, especially on the global stage of the Internet. And if you can’t find a quote to back up what you want to say then you have no business saying it. And finally, she lacked all reverence for such sacred knowledge. She bandied her “special” knowledge about like it was a badge of honor to be flouted for prestige. Something that sacred should never be discussed publicly without being commanded by the Spirit to do so. And even then she would have known that the doctrine she was teaching has never been taught by any prophet to ever live. One has to wonder about her source of revelation. Now we have to worry about how many Innocents have read her post and believed such nonsense to be a truth they need to pursue.
Playing with fire
Ending on a note entitled “playing with fire” is a rather ominous way to go out, but a necessary one. Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Boyd K. Packer quoted Joseph Smith in this statement.
… “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.”
My opinion is that most of those who preach false doctrine in the Church do so out of ignorance, not out of a malicious spirit. But there are few things more dangerous than ignorance in spiritual things.
We are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost when we are confirmed a member of Christ’s church. We cannot receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelation. We are a generation of prophets, for the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Christ, which only comes through revelation from the Spirit. The whole purpose of studying our scriptures and praying multiple times a day is to draw us closer to the Spirit and the revelation he gives us.
So often in the scriptures we see sentiments expressed like that of Nephi in 1 Nephi 14:28.
28 And behold, I, Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard; wherefore the things which I have written sufficeth me; and I have written but a small part of the things which I saw.
He only shared what the Spirit gave him permission to share, and those things either too sacred or ordained for another to share, he kept to himself. I have often said that knowledge is the currency of heaven. Those considered rich in heaven are those who have more knowledge. We cannot be saved in spiritual ignorance, only in spiritual knowledge.
As we seek for more knowledge we must remember that it comes with safeguards and a price tag. If we violate the trust that is placed in us by giving us that knowledge we will have to answer for it, either now or in the final judgment.
This is all about truth. The Spirit’s responsibility in the Godhead is to reveal the truths of God to us as quickly as we are ready for them and can be trusted with them. Accepting the responsibility to learn the nature and attributes of Godliness through the Spirit is a big responsibility, one we signed up for at baptism. We just need to make sure we are aware that there are rules and guidelines connected to receiving revelation. We really are working with fire here, and the last thing we want is to get burned by our own fire.
Covenants are given to us as a one-size-fits-all deal. We all make the same covenants, and the results can be the same for everyone who makes and keeps those covenants. But when it comes to personal revelation we have to be careful that we don’t limit the way the Lord reveals Himself to others. That is very personal. Our best course of action is to quote the scriptures and the prophets and let the person we are teaching learn for themselves how the Spirit communicates best with them. We can share with them the guidelines given us by the prophets for personal revelation, but they have to do their own work to receive the truths the Spirit has to give them.
Note: If you would like to read more about the topic of eternal progression between kingdoms I refer you to an article at Fairmormon.org.