"Mormon Answers" to Questions About the LDS "Testimony" and the Need for Personal Revelation
Latter-day Saints (Mormons) often speak about the importance of having a personal "testimony" of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We tend to encourage people to not just read and think, but also to pray as a way to learn, through personal revelation, if the Book of Mormon or other aspects of the Church are true. This emphasis on personal revelation is often misunderstood., It is sometimes said to be a reliance on random feelings rather than relying on thinking and evidence. Thinking, studying, and pondering are key parts of the process, but in the end, we believe that one needs the guidance that comes through the Spirit of God, not the affirmations of scholars, to have a solid faith and even personal knowledge about the things of God. On this page, I attempt to answer some common questions about the LDS testimony. This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay.
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In John 7:17, Christ told his disciples that "if any man shall do [the Father's] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." Then in John 8:31-32, He also taught, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." These teachings indicate that humans can come to know what is true when it comes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe this knowledge comes through revelation from God, as Christ taught Peter in Matthew 16:16-17, saying of Peter's knowledge that Christ was the Son of God: "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, by my Father which is in heaven." Through revelation from God through the power of the Holy Ghost, we can come to know that God exists, that Jesus is the Messiah and our Redeemer, that the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in these latter days, and that the Book of Mormon is part of the Word of God. Such knowledge we often describe as a person's "testimony."
When a Latter-day Saint shares his or her testimony, they may share faith-promoting experiences they have had and will often affirm their belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and their belief in the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith. They may speak of the blessings and joy that the Gospel brings, and may discuss their faith in or experiences related to the divinity of the Book of Mormon, the ability of personal prayers to be heard and answered by a loving Father in Heaven, and other Gospel concepts.
Ideally, a testimony is based upon experience and knowledge, true knowledge, that is received or confirmed through the power of the Holy Ghost. A testimony should be based upon knowledge the comes from a truly reliable source, God. (A good discussion of this topic can be found in the April 2011 General Conference talk by Cecil O. Samuelson, Jr., "Testimony.")
Understanding the nature of a spiritual testimony requires a little background information about the nature of the human soul. Latter-day Saints believe that we have a dual nature consisting of both body and spirit. Our body is well suited for receiving input through the physical senses, while our spirit can also receive input through spiritual avenues (1 Cor. 2:10-14). In one example, Romans 8:14-16, Paul writes that the spirit of God "bears witness with our spirit" that we are the children of God. Revelation from God, typically through the Holy Ghost (Acts 20:23), can be considered as genuine information imparted by God to our spirit and our mind (though the scriptures also show examples of revelation through physical means such as a voice or the appearance of an angel). Latter-day Saints believe that each person can obtain a personal revelation from God about the reality of Jesus Christ as Savior (see the example of Peter in Matt. 16:15-17; Paul likewise received his knowledge of the Gospel by revelation, not of man, as he writes in Galatians 1:11-12). The same applies for knowing the truth of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Restoration of the Gospel. Knowledge of these realities through personal revelation and other means (experimenting with the word, study, pondering, consideration of evidences, etc.) is said to constitute a "testimony."
The knowledge obtained through revelation can be much more certain and dependable than the so-called knowledge offered by professors, scholars, and human logic alone, for "knowledge" produced by human means is always changing, being revised, or being discarded. We need to use it as much as possible, but human knowledge has great limits. For example, most of the teachings from scientific "knowledge" of the nineteenth century are viewed today as relics of past ignorance (ether as the universal medium, caloric fluid as the medium of heat transfer, theories for chemical reactions, the nature of the atom, of gravity, of the universe, nutrition, disease, etc.). But what God truly reveals can outlast the transient teachings of the learned.
A great Old Testament example contrasting external evidences with the power of revelation from God is found in 1 Kings 19:9-12. Here a persecuted Elijah is discouraged and appears to have retreated from the mission before him, convinced that his situation is desperate and that he is alone. The Lord tells him to stand upon the mountain:
11. ... And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
12. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
We also must learn to find the Lord not by looking for big manifestations or powerful displays of power and proof, but by following the still (or gentle) small voice of the Spirit, which whispers guidance and inspiration to our lives as we seek Him in prayer and as we strive to do His will and repent of our sins, looking to Christ for salvation. As we do this, we can gain a testimony of the Gospel, not by flesh and blood, but by revelation from the Father.
Some people are puzzled by our use of the term "testimony," but I feel we use it as it is used in the Bible. For example, Revelation 19:10 says that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" - suggesting to me that revelation - the spirit of prophecy - is needed to have a sure witness of Christ (and that those with a sure witness of Christ can have spiritual gifts such as prophecy). Rev. 19:10, by the way, echoes 1 Cor. 12:3: "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." No one can truly testify of Christ - or truly "bear testimony" of Him, unless that testimony is based on personal revelation through the power of the Holy Ghost. Other related references to the use of the word "testimony" can be found in 1 Cor. 1:6; 1 Cor. 2:1; 2 Tim. 1:8; Rev. 6:9; and Rev. 12:11.
Faith based on the physical senses and human logic alone is much more fallible than "the sure word of prophecy" (2 Peter 1:19) wherein God reveals pure truth to a soul - an experience which is difficult to describe but is real and available to those earnestly seeking to commune with God in prayer.
The concept of humans receiving a witness of the truth through the power of God - rather than human logic alone - is entirely Biblical. See Matthew 16:15-19; John 14:26 and 15:26, and others. I think that the best discourse on this topic is found in chapters 1 and 2 of First Corinthians. Paul refers to the testimony of Christ (1 Cor. 1:6) and warns against the divisions among the believers that have occurred because of false doctrines and the learning of men. Whereas the Greeks love human wisdom and logic and sophistry, Paul stresses that all this is foolishness before God (1 Cor. 1:17-21). Unfortunately, the Gospel seems like foolishness to the wise and learned Greeks and Jews (I Cor. 1: 19-23), for the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks require things to appeal to their wisdom and learning. Thus not many of the wise and learned of the world accept the Gospel, but the foolish and base things of the world, those who are despised by the wise, are the ones that believe (1 Cor. 1:25-29).
Paul then explains how he preaches the Gospel, declaring "the testimony of God" (1 Cor. 2:1). It is not done with enticing words of human wisdom and logic, "but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4-5), This is how the Gospel must be preached and received - through the power of the Spirit - "that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:5). To those that are enlightened by the Spirit, it is clear that the teachings of the Gospel contain true wisdom and power (1 Cor. 2:6-9), but this (and many treasures of God) is hidden from those of the world who follow human wisdom. But the saints have a knowledge not of man, but a knowledge - a testimony - based on revelation from God to the spirit of the believer:
10. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
11. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
12. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13. Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know then, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:10-14)
LDS people will often say things like, "I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon as a true witness of Christ." Those words often mean that the person honestly thinks that he or she KNOWS something is true, but in many cases it may just mean that the person strongly believes it to be true. And, regrettably, some will repeat these words without understanding or really meaning what they are saying. Some do mistake emotional experiences with the power and reality of revelation from the Holy Ghost. But in general, a "testimony" refers to a personal witness from God that something is true - typically that Christ is the Son of God and that His Church has been restored. The last chapter of the Book of Mormon offers a promise to its readers that the Holy Ghost will manifest the truth of the book to them if they read it, ponder it, remember the goodness of God, have faith in Christ, and pray sincerely to the Father in the name of Christ to know whether it is true. "And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:5). Surprisingly, some anti-Mormon works (e.g., The God Makers) strenuously warn readers NOT to pray about the Book of Mormon and threaten them with warnings about Satan answering their prayers instead of God. What are they afraid of? (Cf. 2 Nephi 32: 8,9 in the Book of Mormon.)
I am continually amazed at how anti-Mormons urge their listeners to avoid praying. "Do not pray!! You'll be deceived!" This is so contrary to Biblical teachings. Many of our critics take the position that they already have all truth, that there is no more need for revelation from God to gain truth and wisdom, and certainly no need to pray to discern the truth - just listen to their interpretation of the Bible, they say, which is "obviously objective and factual." But as a Christian, I must warn you against those who would issue a gag order against God. He speaks and answers prayers and commands us to pray and seek his Spirit to learn truth and gain wisdom.
For example, James 1:5 implores all those seeking wisdom to ask God, who gives liberally, and it shall be given him. This precious scripture so touched Joseph Smith that he went into the woods one morning in 1820 to pray to God to ask which of all the many contradicting and battling churches of his day would be the right one to join. And that led to a marvelous revelation in which he learned that he must join none of them, for none of them were the Church that Christ had established. Ongoing revelation and increasing bounties of truth are promised in John 16:13, when Christ tells his disciples that the Holy Ghost, which had not yet come, would guide them toward all truth - clearly through the vehicle of revelation. There is no hint that this blessing of revelation was meant to wither away, as it apparently has in much of Christendom today.
"Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find," are the words of Christ in Matthew 7:7. Christ promises answers to prayers and encourages us to seek.
There will always be scribe-like factions which oppose new revelation from God while claiming to have all the truth they need in their human interpretations of scripture. They are deceived. God's Church was meant to be led through revelation from Christ to Apostles and Prophets (Eph. 4:11-14). As we see in Matt. 16:15-17, it is only through revelation - not human understanding and logic alone - that we can know that Jesus is the Christ, for flesh and blood does not reveal this to us, but the Father reveals it to those who humbly seek, not believing in the human traditions they may have inherited.
Those who urge you not to pray are not of God. Matt. 15:9 seems appropriate here: "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." I therefore urge you to humbly ask God for wisdom. Pray and seek!
"I was looking around your page, when I saw the verses from the Book of Mormon about planting a seed and if it grows, it's a good seed. Don't you find that to be false?? I don't believe that a subjective, emotional experience can be the basis for our truth, unless backed also by other objective/scientific/unbiased evidences."
You refer to a popular distortion of our beliefs from anti-Mormons. The idea that Mormons base their faith on subjective emotions, not knowledge, is repeated endless by our critics who think that Mormons are stupid and they alone can think intelligently. They misrepresent our faith as emotional fantasies with no substance behind it, and condemn those who bear witness that they have received revelation from the Spirit of God. They condemn these testimonies as being wishful thinking, hopelessly inferior to the pure logic and reason our critics claim to use to for their faith. To these critics, I would ask if they also condemn other Christians who "feel" a call to serve in the ministry, or who have "felt" that God exists and Jesus is the Christ even in the face of seemingly powerful arguments by atheists? Would they condemn Peter for believing that Jesus is the Christ, since it was not revealed to Peter by logic, but by revelation from God (Matt. 16:15-17)? Would they shout down those who heard Peter preach on the day of Pentecost, who said that they felt "pricked in their hearts" and wanted to know more (Acts 2:37,38)? Would they condemn the disciples of Christ on the road to Emmaus who felt their hearts burn within them as a witness of truth and power when they heard Christ preach (Luke 24:32)?
Our critics mock the idea that we can have truth revealed to us by the power of the Holy Ghost instead of relying upon their mortal wisdom, which they allege is based purely on the word of God - overlooking the centuries of human tradition, Greek philosophy, and post-Biblical councils that have defined their approach to the scripture and their selection of verses to emphasize. LDS testimonies are based upon the idea that God can reveal truth to us and give us an understanding that the Gospel is true, that Jesus is the Christ, and that He leads His Church through modern prophets and apostles, even when we don't yet have all the understanding needed to answer the many objections that critics throw our way. Once God has revealed it to our heart and mind, human logic cannot easily overthrow that witness. This concept, contrary to what our critics asset, is entirely Biblical. Paul, for example, spoke of this in 1 Corinthians 12:3, saying "Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." We cannot truly know that Jesus is the Lord unless it is revealed to us by the Holy Ghost. Revelation is the basis of testimony - and our critics wrest the scriptures when they revile against the thought.
So how do Mormons obtain this revelation and develop their faith about the truthfulness of the Gospel? Prayer is essential, and pondering and thinking about the word of God (which includes the Book of Mormon). Prayer, study, and pondering opens up the channels of revelation. Further, we must experiment with the word and put the Gospel into practice. For example, John 7:17 tells us that we can know of the truthfulness of Christ's word by doing it - by doing the will of God. In John 8:31, the Savior teaches that we will come to know the truth if we continue in His word, becoming true disciples. Both of these passages agree with Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon (the "seed" chapter you read): our knowledge of the truth grows as we put it into practice, just as scientific knowledge grows as we apply and experiment with valid scientific hypotheses. Alma 32 talks about much more than an emotional experience - which is not the basis of testimony for faithful Latter-day Saints (though it is for some who have not diligently sought to know and nurture the word). Emotional experiences can occur in any religion and are not a reasonable basis for faith.
In Alma 32, I see heavy emphasis on intellectual processes and multiple means of validation. The seed is the word of God - and planting it requires the intellectual process of reading, understanding, and applying it. When the seed begins to grow, in verse 28, as the seed - not only will there be "swelling motions" in our heart, but we will see that "it beginneth to enlarge my soul [and] to enlighten my understanding." An enlightened understanding means to me that we can see how multiple facts and records and principles agree and fit together, giving increased intellectual harmony through the added knowledge that has been gained by applying the word.
Verse 29 says that this step of the process will increase our faith, but it is not yet a perfect knowledge. However, the successful result is an indication that the particular seed that has been planted - a portion of the word - is good. One of the key results to look for is increased knowledge and intellectual understanding - or as the end of verse 34 states, "your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand." Verse 35 states that this is real - not just emotion - because it is "light and whatsoever is light is good because it is discernible."
This passage describes a logical and experimental approach that is not simply based on emotion but on reason, on the mind, on understanding, on study, on enlightenment, and on diligent and patient seeking and nourishing the word.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I believe that intellectual processes alone are inadequate. Many Jews saw Christ perform great miracles, but that did not change their hearts and their lives. A life-changing, soul-saving testimony that Jesus is the Christ is obtained through personal revelation from God as we turn to Christ. In Matthew 16:15-19, Peter is able to testify that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus then said that flesh and blood did not reveal this to Peter, "but my Father which is in heaven." It was revealed by God, not by tangible evidences. See John 15:26 - it is the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, that testifies of Christ. Paul (1 Cor. 2:10-14) also talks about the importance of being taught not by the things of men and the discernment of men alone, but by the spirit of God that teaches our spirit within us. Examples of people being touched by the power of the Spirit - which some dismiss as an emotional experience - are in Luke 24:32 (their hearts burned as Christ taught them) and Acts 2:41 (their hearts were "pricked" as they heard true preaching). Spiritual experiences following sincere scripture study, intellectual seeking, and prayer are not to be dismissed as Satanic revelations, but as one of the ways the Lord provides knowledge to those who seek him. (I am offended by the warning in The God Makers that people should NOT pray to learn the truth about "Mormonism," for they will get a yes answer - but from Satan. Those who teach people not to pray are not doing the work of Christ.)
Related reading: Mary Ellen Edmunds, "Spirituality - More Than a Feeling," Ensign, Vol. 15, No. 10, Oct. 1985, pp. 14-16. Also see "Why I Still Choose To Believe " by John Lynch at the FAIRBlog by FAIRLDS.org.
"Acting on our faith helps us see if the results are what were expected, or that the teaching is true. But the basis for truth must be knowledge, not experience."
We must walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7; Rom. 1:17). As a scientist, I know the so-called "knowledge" of man is often wrong and is always being revised and overturned. Based on such "knowledge" alone, no one could ever believe Genesis, which makes many claims and speaks of many events and places (Eden, the 6-day creation, Joseph on the throne in Egypt, the tower of Babel story of languages, etc.) which modern "knowledge" and modern scientists reject. Yet in faith I believe it, realizing that there are many questions I cannot yet answer. Indeed, through the spirit of God, which surpasses unreliable human knowledge, I know that God created the earth and the He lives. No man knows the things of God by himself (by mortal reasoning) but by revelation from the spirit of God (1 Cor 2: 9-12), which imparts true knowledge. That is how I can say I truly KNOW. Faith leads to knowledge - but not the kind that "objective" evidences bring to those who only rely on their own limited, fallible, unaided reasoning powers.
Many people of all faiths claim to be happy with their views, to find them reasonable or acceptable, and even may say that they are convinced that their faith is correct. However, outside of Christianity, it is rare to find people who claim that they "know" something is true by means of divine, personal revelation, though I suspect that some have genuine knowledge of the existence of God through the whisperings of the Spirit in their lives. Among Christians, there are many who know through the power of the Holy Ghost that God exists and that Jesus is the Christ. A sure knowledge of those facts comes not by logic alone but by the power of revelation. As John wrote in Rev. 19:10, "no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."
I am puzzled over the many anti-LDS attacks on the concept of revealed testimony. Our spiritual convictions are belittled as the result of fantasy, emotional experiences, self-deception, mass hypnosis, and the like. But if a non-LDS Christian shares his conversion experience and tells how the Spirit revealed the truth to him even in a highly emotional way, our critics are likely to say "Amen" and "Hallelujah" (at least I hope they would say that!), though some of their writings against LDS views suggest that hardcore, objective logic (human reasoning!) is the only path to knowledge.
I heard a related story on our local Christian radio station (WEMI) during a broadcast of "Focus on the Family" on Dec. 23, 1996 (perhaps a replay of a past show). That broadcast included the powerful testimony of a once-atheistic Jewish man, Stan Telchin (sp.?) and his wife, who both came to know that Jesus is the Christ - not by pure intellect, but by the power of the Spirit. Stan reported that he had been looking into Christianity but couldn't accept it through logic alone. But when he finally PRAYED, it was as if "rockets went off in his heart" (that's the phrase I recall) and then he KNEW. As I heard his personal story, his personal testimony, tears came to my eyes for I understood what this brother in Christ had experienced. Yes, logic and study had played an important role and had helped, but it was a real and powerful spiritual experience - hopefully just one of many for Stan - that changed his life and transformed mere ideas into reality. (Stan's story is told in his book, Betrayed.)
In conclusion, members of other religions can and should have spiritual experiences and personal revelation about what is true - that God exists, that Jesus is the Christ, that the Bible is the Word of God. However, you will find it rare indeed for members of other religions to say that they know through prayer and personal revelation that their particular Church is true. I would be really surprised to attend a Presbyterian meeting, for example, and to hear multiple members of the congregation say that they knew through personal revelation that the Presbyterian Church was the Christian church closest to the one Christ founded. Of course, Protestants don't focus much on the merits of particular Protestant churches relative to others, so let me broaden my example. I would be surprised to hear Protestants in general bear testimony based on prayer and spiritual experiences that Martin Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone was in fact a true and correct interpretation of the Bible. I think many believe that and think it is logical, but I doubt that many feel they have a divine testimony of it. If I'm wrong, please let me know. I'd be interested to hear your experience.
Great question! There is a wide spectrum in the nature of testimonies, just as there is on how God deals with each of His children. We should not expect testimonies to fit into a neat cookie-cutter pattern. Some people do have dramatic experiences that serve as anchors to their faith or perhaps a catalyst for their spiritual journey. Others gain their faith through many small steps as they actively live their faith. Active living of the faith, though, is often the key. Is is through following Christ that we come to know the truth (John 8:31) and through doing that we can determine that the doctrines in the Gospel of Jesus Christ really do come from God (John 7:17). Faith precedes the miracle: thus, by exercising faith in Christ by hearing and acting upon the Word, we then can receive the miracle of spiritual or other evidence to strengthen our evidence. But this blessing, like all God's blessings, varies greatly in how it is delivered, received and perceived. It is fireworks for some, and a soft glow for others.
Terryl L. Givens and Fiona Givens in The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith ( (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2014) share the story of an LDS missionary who learned it was through doing that his testimony most fully bore fruit:
Another friend recalls years of praying into the void, through adolescence and into his mission. Finally, in spiritual agony, he wrote home, complaining of his own feeling of fraudulence. An unexpected rebuke came back from his mother. "Enough of this nonsense. This is pure foolishness. Stop this at once. Stop praying with your knees, start praying with your feet." And that was a sweet relief for me. It was complete and total liberation. I took her advice and decided "I'm going to stop doing this thing. I'm going to stop holding a gun to the Lord's head and insisting on a sign. I'm just going to live my life as if the gospel is true." So you must understand: what I did upon reading that letter, was that I made a wager. I decided to bet my entire life that the gospel was true. I decided I would wager my life that the Church is everything it claims it is and live out my life accordingly. So that is what I've done and what I continue to do. . . . The kicker is that in the course of serving and fulfilling priesthood duty, knowledge does in fact come. But for me it has come in ways that were unbidden. Knowledge for me has not arrived because it was beckoned, or because I said "give me a revelation." For me it has come in ways I can barely describe, and never on command, and I'm not even sure that they're sensory or palpable. But I can tell you . . . that I somehow crossed a threshold into an area that I think we can call something more approaching knowledge. When I speak with conviction about our church it's not merely with hope and with faith but with something that is approaching knowledge. That I can tell you. But it's never come on my terms and never come to me on my timetable. (Chapter 10, "Of Silence and Solitude," Kindle location 2354.)
That experience of gradual growth is not uncommon, but more dramatic and obvious milestones for faith are also quite common.
Excellent question. Latter-day Saints believe that the Holy Ghost, one of the three members of the Godhead, is a personage of spirit who can dwell in our hearts and can influence us in many ways. The Holy Ghost reveals truth, testifies of God and Christ and the Gospel, reminds us of what we have learned, and helps us know what is right (see John 14:26; John 15:26; Heb. 2:4; 1 Cor. 12:8; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:3-5). The Holy Ghost can work upon anybody, coming to bear witness of truth for a moment and then leaving, but those who become members of the Church of Jesus Christ receive a special gift called "the gift of the Holy Ghost" which is given by the laying on of hands by authorized servants of God who hold the priesthood of God. The gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands gives the member the right and privilege of having the influence of the Holy Ghost to be with them as a constant companion, depending on their faithfulness. It opens the door to regular, even daily personal guidance and revelation from the Lord.
By the way, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands was a sacred ordinance in the original Church of Jesus Christ which was lost or corrupted during the era of the great apostasy in which many spiritual gifts, including revelation to prophets and apostles, was no longer found on the earth. This gift and ordinance was restored by Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Bible provides evidence for the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by authorized priesthood holders in the original Church: see Acts 8:14-23; Heb. 6:1,2; 2 Tim. 1:6 and 1 Tim. 4:14.
The one thing in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints most differs from many other Churches, and the one thing that has led to the most persecution and hatred, is our claim that revelation from God did not stop with Christ or the death of the last apostle, but that the principle of revelation from heaven has been restored, and that God speaks again to prophets and continues to give His word. A corollary to that principle is that God continues to give personal revelation through His Spirit to those who seek Him.
It is important for Latter-day Saints to learn how the Spirit (the Holy Ghost) operates and how it reveals things to us. While the scriptures speak of a "burning" feeling in our heart that can arise from the witness of the Spirit (Luke 24:32; Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9), that is just part of how the Spirit communicates with us. Other important passages teach that the Spirit can be discerned by the way it enlightens our mind and intellect, speaks peace and joy to our heart, and leads us to do what is good. Doctrine and Covenants 11:12-14, given by revelation to Joseph Smith, is noteworthy:
12 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good--yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
13 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
14 And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.
Likewise, Doctrine and Covenants 8:2,3 explains the involvement of both the heart and mind in discerning the Spirit:
Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9, which speaks of a burning in the heart, also emphasizes the need to study something out in our mind before seeking revelation on the topic:
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 study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
(The above passage was given as direction to Oliver Cowdery concerning his attempt to translate part of the Book of Mormon with the power of God and may not have universal application.)
There is a world of difference between fleeting emotion and the light and surety and knowledge that the Spirit of God imparts to us. Some aspects of "feeling the Spirit" are described in emotional terms like joy and peace (see Galatians 5:22) or feelings in the heart, but the witness of the Spirit is much less superficial than mere emotion and can be more tangible, real, and lasting than anything provided by the senses - sight, touch, taste, etc. To those who have not experienced it, it is difficult to describe accurately - how do you describe the taste of salt to someone who has never tasted it?
True personal revelation provides a rock in ones life, unlike the transitory and fleeting nature of mere emotion. The power of the Holy Ghost can breathe intelligence and knowledge into our mind while comforting our heart with peace and joy. Sometimes its operation is quiet and subtle, like the "still small voice" described in 1 Kings 19:11-12 or like the subtle warmth in the hearts experienced by the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32), while other times it is dramatic, as at the exceptional Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). It is through the power of the Holy Ghost that I know - not just hope - that God is real, that He is our Father in Heaven who loves us, that Jesus lives and is the Christ, the Redeemer of the World and Son of God. By the same means and power I have also come to know for myself that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored and is true, in spite of all the calumny and rumors and lies. I also have received a personal witness that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, as is the Bible, but that spiritual witness continues to be amplified by my intellectual explorations into the text and the evidences of its authenticity.
When missionaries teach others about the Gospel, they do not try to argue and prove that the Church is true. Rather, they encourage the person to apply their mind, in reading and pondering the scriptures, and then turn to God in prayer to know through personal revelation whether the claims of the restored Church of Jesus Christ are true. It is upon the rock of revelation that the Church of Jesus Christ is founded, as Christ told Peter in Matt. 16:15-19, and it is through personal revelation most converts decide to join the Church and covenant to follow Christ. The challenge after baptism is to stay close to the Spirit through prayer, study, and faithfulness, so we can discern and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which can be a constant companion and light to our lives. When we are feeling and following the Spirit, we should experience the fruits that Paul speaks of - love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, etc. (Gal. 3:22). When the Spirit works upon us, it should enlighten our minds and speak peace to our hearts. Learning how the Spirit works and how to follow it is not always an easy task, but one worth our careful attention and effort.
(This question was posed to me by someone after he read The God Makers.)
One can most definitely come to accept the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith by intellectual evidences, and I know of people who have. But to know that Jesus is the Christ and that He guides His Church today requires the spirit of prophecy, the witness that comes through the Holy Ghost, as the Bible plainly teaches. This is not merely a burning or a feeling, but a powerful experience or spiritual process that imparts KNOWLEDGE and enlightenment and strength. Few Christians in the Bible were converted by intellectual reasoning, but many were moved by the power of God to know with surety what might have been unknowable by logic alone. That's a testimony. I am amazed at how The God Makers mocks the Biblical concept of revelation through the Holy Ghost, of the spirit of prophecy, and of the need to pray always and follow Christ to know for our selves what is right and wrong. The God Makers urges people - begs people - NOT TO PRAY to know about the truthfulness of the restored Gospel of Christ. Can you guess who it is that desires, above all else, that people should not pray but (proudly) rely on their own minds alone? He who abhors prayer most of all - the source of darkness, the source of smug intellectual pride, the source of mockery and false accusations such as fill the pages and video frames of The God Makers: Satan. Ignore such deception and humbly seek knowledge and truth from the source of love and truth, even God the Father, as you prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon and the Bible. You will then know in your mind and in your heart that the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Your intellectual understanding of it will grow with time, as you continue in the faith, but even the young and inexperienced can know with surety that it is true by the powerful witness of the Spirit. They can be baptized without the need to answer every question and objection - but there are answers and many great treasures to those that continue to seek further light and knowledge.
It's important to understand the Holy Ghost affects our heart AND our mind - (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2,3; John 14:26 and 15:26). It helps us to remember and understand the Gospel, and to understand and KNOW things of God. It gives you knowledge of truth beyond what you would have alone. It can guide you do miraculous things in serving others, experiencing real miracles. Many people of all faiths can temporarily experience those blessings and miracles and gain testimonies of Christ or the Bible or of God through the Holy Ghost. We are different in that we believe we can also gain a witness of the truthfulness of the Restoration of the Gospel in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the power of the Holy Ghost, and can also know of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or other aspects of the Restored Gospel through the influence of the Holy Ghost.
Thus, one way to distinguish emotion from the workings of the Holy Ghost is the transmission of knowledge and understanding through its power. It's one thing to feel an emotional rush as your favorite soccer team wins. It's another to feel joy, peace, and understanding as you perceive through divine power that you are a son or daughter of God with divine potential, and that God has led you to a fuller knowledge of who you are through His divine Church.
Look at the fruits of the Spirit Paul describes in Galatians 5:22,23, and consider those things in seeking to distinguish the Spirit from emotions. When the Spirit is present, there is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, and so forth. It's not all just fuzzy emotion - it's a touch with the divine that drives us to change, to improve, and to have increased faith (often due to the assurance to our MINDS of the reality of the Gospel, based on my experience).
There is a definite difference between emotion and the Spirit, but it takes some experience to understand the difference. One must be prepared to best be able to hear the Spirit; I recommend prayer, scripture study, and striving to follow God's commandments, especially through service to others. One must be in tune to hear the "voice" of the Spirit. Emotion is a voice. Appetite is a voice. The Spirit is described as a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). Detecting it and following it - while filtering out other voices - is one of the most vital skills we can develop.
Here is the question I received from someone who was preparing to be baptized and had been hit with anti-Mormon arguments from his friends:
"The Book of Mormon and the Latter-day Saints tell us to pray about the Book of Mormon, saying that God will give an answer to our heart. But Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things. How can I reconcile this?"
In the Bible, the word "heart" is often synonymous with mind and soul (e.g., Luke 24:38 - "Why do thoughts arise in your hearts?"). Yes, the human heart and mind can be full of sin and deceit. But when God reveals His will to us, how else can it be revealed but through the mind or heart? Your friends are arguing against the concept of revelation from God to the heart or mind of man. That's contrary to the whole essence of the Bible! As for what the Bible teaches about the human heart and revelation from God, look at these examples:
Critics of the Church must have spent many hours finding a way to twist some verse to deny the principle of revelation to the heart of man. Jeremiah 17:9 doesn't really do that - it's just Jeremiah's complaint about wicked humans. I agree that human thoughts and intents and plans are weak and fallible and often wicked. But we're asking people to turn away from human influences and turn to God, in prayer, seeking inspiration through the spirit. Is praying to God wrong? Is seeking revelation from God wrong? That's almost the position that the anti-Mormons take. And in place of inspiration from God, what do they offer? Their human thoughts, human logic, human interpretations of scripture and human creeds, which came from the hearts and minds of humans. Hmm....
What are the anti-Mormons so afraid of? They virtually beg others to NOT pray. Do they have so little faith in God that they fear souls will be lost if people pray to Him and seek His Spirit to guide them in matters of faith? They deny the Holy Ghost; they deny revelation from God. Well did Nephi write that it is Satan, not God, who teaches a man not to pray (2 Nephi 32:8,9).
LDS Scholars Testify -a tremendous collection of the testimonies and viewpoints of notable LDS scholars and thinkers, including, for example, Richard Bushman of BYU, Jonathan Adjimani of the University of Ghana, Joseph Stucki of the University of Illinois and Susan Eastman Black of BYU. There are some deep and fascinating accounts in this rich website.
The Personal Conversion Account of Sander J. Rabinowitz - A Jewish man writes of his conversion to Christianity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, describing the experiences that led to a testimony of Christ and the Gospel.
Conversion of an Anti-Mormon - the story of a girl who was caught up in anti-Mormonism who ended up gaining a testimony of the Restored Gospel and was baptized.
Notes of a Jewish Convert to the LDS Church - by Marlena Tanya Muchnick.
Testimony of E. McDonough, illustrating the power of the Book of Mormon. A former Protestant turned Latter-day Saint."The Good Bishop Walker" - conversion story of a man who was known as Bishop Walker before he became a Latter-day Saint. The Toned-Down, Real Story of Gertrude Specht