September 25, 2007

Learning by Revelation

Jedediah M. Grant May 30, 1855 Much has been said about intellectual freedom in the Church. Indeed, some may feel the Church is too rigid regarding education. One thing is certain: the Church encourages education. Joseph Smith believed in the power of education. In Nauvoo as part of the city charter a University was planned, though it never reached completion before the saints were driven west. Providing textbooks for schools was high on the priority list when supplies were planned for the saints leaving Nauvoo to go west. Schoolhouses were built in most settlements, and a University was established early in the valley's history. Of learning, the Prophet said:
...The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 191).
Still, the prophet didn't discount the power of a good book, and encouraged the study of such. Two sections of the Doctrine and Covenants mention the virtue of books:
And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith... (D&C 109:7; see also v. 14; D&C 88:118)
Rather than comprehensively covering the topic of learning by study as well as faith, I'll take Elder Grant at his word to give the reader something to ponder. He encouraged learning by study and also by faith; being taught and teaching by revelation through the Holy Ghost:
I hope you, as well as myself, have often thought upon the science of theology, or upon other branches of science; but notwithstanding we may reflect upon them, and think upon them till we make our heads ache, yet my experience has proved to me that an Elder of Israel cannot impress any subject on the minds of the people, unless he has the Holy Spirit.
Elder Grant knew there was something inside us all that recognizes truth if we listen carefully. The Spirit of Christ is given to every man to discern right from wrong, good from evil.
One trait I have had in my character from my boyhood, and that is, not to believe every story told me to be true. I well remember that my mother used to instruct and teach me that if I was a bad boy, I should have to go to hell, and that the fire there was seven times hotter than any fire I could possibly make, even if I should make it with beech or maple wood, and there I must burn for ever and ever. I never believed this story, but I presume that my mother did; I could not, therefore I felt no trouble about it.
Elder Grant relied on the Spirit of Truth to discern what he was learning. Though he hadn't yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost, he could feel the influence of the Spirit, and he was led by the Spirit of Christ:
Still I was particular in my notions of certain ideas. I remember reflecting when very young-my brother had killed a quail, and in conversing upon the circumstances, he asked my mother if there was not a quail heaven, which caused me to reflect much upon the idea of a future state of the animal creation. And, when quite young, I read the sermons of John Wesley, who believed that the animal creation would have an eternal existence as well as man, therefore my ideas were strengthened upon this thing; but when I came to read the vision given to Joseph Smith upon a future state, as contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, I believed it, although some in our neighborhood were much troubled with the doctrine it contained, but it gave me great joy and satisfaction.
Later, the reception of the Holy Ghost increases this discernment which began with the Light of Christ. Christ promised His disciples He would send them the gift of the Holy Ghost: the Comforter. Of this gift he said:
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you (John 14:6).
The promise is relatively straightforward: all truth can be discerned by the Holy Ghost, who guides us into all truth. This guidance isn't completely fool-proof; messages from the Holy Ghost can be affected, obscured, or rejected because of our own prejudices, preconceived ideas, pride, and etc. Sometimes you'll hear or learn something you find puzzling or strange. Don't cast away so quickly; think it over:
When a man teaches doctrine, let him keep on the track, and teach what we can realize and understand, for I do dislike to receive anything for doctrine and afterwards be under the necessity of giving it up because it is erroneous. Hence, if you desire to be constantly led in the path of truth, you will have to be led by the inspiration of the Lord. If I hear a righteous man teach doctrine which I cannot believe nor comprehend, I mark the saying, and I find, that in course of time, the Holy Spirit makes the principle manifest, and sets the matter right.
Elder Grant digressed to share an experience where the Spirit helped him in a more temporal situation; he became lost one day while marching with Zion's Camp and sought the help of the Spirit:
In the year 1834, when Zion's camp was moving from Kirtland to Missouri, one day I left the camp and went out to hunt in the woods of Ohio, and strayed away from the camp some 10 or 11 miles. The camp kept moving on all the time, and I entirely lost the track, and having no compass, I knew not towards what point I should travel. I kept travelling on till the after part of the day; I then concluded I would pray, but I could not get any impression where the camp was. However, I soon after received an impression from the Spirit, the same Spirit we had in Kirtland, and the same Spirit we enjoy in this place; and immediately after receiving the impression, I looked before me, and there was the camp moving on in regular order. I could see it just as clear as I did in the morning; there were the people, the wagons and horses, all in their places as I left them in the fore part of the day, and I supposed they were not more than 80 rods off. But after turning away for a moment, I again looked in the same direction, but all was gone. Still the Spirit told me to travel on in the same direction I had seen the camp; I did so and after travelling some 8 or 10 miles, came up with them, and when they first came in sight, they looked just as I saw them in the vision.
Returning to the subject of learning, Elder Grant said learning without the influence of the Spirit can be binding. He encouraged learning by the Holy Ghost in all pursuits:
I want the Saints of God, when they come to school, to be filled with the Holy Spirit; I want the Saints to pray that those who speak may do it by the power of the Holy Ghost, and by this course you will learn and understand the principle of eternal life and happiness, and will receive intelligence from the fountain of all knowledge, which will exalt you in the presence of God. You may read all the books in the universe, and study all you can upon the science of astronomy, chemistry, and theology, and make those sciences interwoven with your very nature, till they are like a straight-jacket upon you, and you may be wrapped up in them and bound hand and foot, and after all they will not let you into the fountain of all knowledge; but by taking such a course, you will have to become slaves to the learning that you have acquired. But I want the Saints to use their learning in the same manner as a boy uses the top, which is in perfect subjection to him; upon the same principle let the Saints use their learning, and when they speak, let it be by the power of God. It is not that I discard learning, but let it be used properly.
This method of learning was mentioned by Elder Henry B. Eyring in a talk that was published in the Ensign last June. He encouraged learning by the Spirit, as Brigham did above, as long as it was done with a pure motive. He also emphasized that learning by the Spirit wasn't a free pass; it requires our full efforts:

Consider yourself on the eve of a school examination or an interview for a new job. You know that the direction of the Holy Ghost could be of great help. I know from my own experience, for example, that the Holy Ghost knows the mathematical equations used to solve problems in thermodynamics. I was a struggling physics student studying in a book that I still own. Halfway down a page, in the middle of some mathematics, I had a clear confirmation that what I was reading was true. It was exactly the feeling that had come to me before as I had pondered the Lord’s scriptures and that I have had many times since. So I knew that the Holy Ghost understood whatever was true in what I might be asked on an examination in thermodynamics.

You can imagine that I was tempted to ask God to send me the Holy Ghost during the examination so I wouldn’t need to study further. I knew that He could do it, but I did not ask Him. I felt that He would rather have me learn to pay a price in effort. Always there is the possibility that we may have a selfish purpose that is less important to the Lord. For instance, I may want a good grade in a course, when He prefers that I learn how to work hard in the service of others. I may want a job because of the salary or the prestige, when He wants me to work somewhere else to bless the life of someone I don’t even know yet. I may desire to entertain or impress a congregation, but I try to suppress my desire and surrender to His ("Gifts of the Spirit For Hard Times," Henry B. Eyring, Ensign, June 2007).
Jedediah said we can know when we are learning by the Spirit by detecting the fruits of the Spirit, but we must live worthily to enjoy them- not only at school and Church, but in the home:
I will now come right down to your own houses, and among your own families. When you call upon the Lord, night and morning, and do those things which are right in the sight of God, you feel well, don't you? But if you act in a different manner, and neglect to pray, and forget to attend to those duties devolving upon a Saint of God, you feel barren in the things of God. Can you go and read, and study any science, and feel that you have the same light beaming upon your understanding, that a person has who is filled with the Spirit of God, and that light which animates a heavenly being?...that man knows the most who enjoys the greatest portion of the Holy Spirit… (Jedediah M. Grant, Journal of Discourses 3:7-12).