May 9, 2008

Preaching by the Spirit: "Interesting and Instructive"

Or "Testimony by personal narrative" Brigham Young August 17, 1856 In a revelation to Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio in 1831, the Lord declared that the gospel must be preached "by the Spirit." Brigham Young took the counsel seriously which said

Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man (D&C 84:85).[1]
Hence Brigham's discourses, which were spoken without prepared notes and recorded in writing as they were given. To Latter-day Saints, preaching by the Holy Ghost is seen as so important that even if truth is communicated, if it lacks the power of the Spirit, it is "not of God":
Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God (D&C 50:17-18).
Brigham described his favored preaching style by referring to the man who helped convert him to the gospel through preaching, even though it was, as Brigham described it, "without eloquence."In this sermon Brigham also expounded on what he expected from those who preach the gospel. Do it by the Spirit, not by good oratory alone (if at all):
With regard to preaching, let a man present himself before the Saints, or go into the world before the nobles and great men of the earth, and let him stand up full of the Holy Ghost, full of the power of God, and though he may use words and sentences in an awkward style, he will convince and convert more, of the truth, than can the most polished orator destitute of the Holy Ghost; for that Spirit will prepare the minds of the people to receive the truth, and the spirit of the speaker will influence the hearers so that they will feel it. These reflections are my true sentiments, and it is knowledge with me with regard to speakers and people who have honest hearts, who desire the knowledge of the Lord, who are seeking to know the will of God, and willing to become subject to it. The Spirit of truth will do more to bring persons to light and knowledge, than flowery words. This is my experience, and I presume it is the experience of many of you, and that you can call that to mind when you first received the Spirit of this Gospel (JD 4:21).

On June 13, 1852 Brigham had described his conversion to the gospel. As Latter-day Saints are wont to do, he used his experience as a pattern for others. He illustrated a proper mode of preaching by relating his conversion experience. For example, preaching should "doers of the word," not speakers only, and thus inculcate a desire in the listeners to likewise be doers (see James 1:22-23):
If those who speak do so by the Spirit of the Lord they will speak according to the text; for it is impossible ever to depart from it if they remain in the truth. If they live to it, their whole lives will aim directly to the one grand object, namely, to be encircled, wrapt up, and surrounded with the knowledge of God. That will make them one (according to the text), prepare them to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them, to keep the whole law of the Father and the Son, and all the laws of the Celestial Kingdom which have been, or ever will be, revealed, and to meet the Saviour at his coming.
Personal narrative has formed a part of LDS testimony since the beginning (Joseph Smith, for example, related his concrete personal experiences in testimony; "I saw," "I heard."[2]) Latter-day Saints believe that God plays an intimate role in their lives, and testimony is typically grounded in actual experiences; seeing the hand of God in their every-day lives. Brigham explains and exemplifies in the same sermon:
It yields solid satisfaction to hear men testify of the truth of the Gospel. It is always peculiarly interesting to me to hear the Saints tell their experience. It is to me one of the best of sermons to hear men and women relate to each other how the Lord has wrought upon their understanding, and brought them into the path of truth, life, and salvation. I would rather hear men tell their own experience, and testify that Joseph was a Prophet of the Lord, and that the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and other revelations of God, are true; that they know it by the gift and power of God; that they have conversed with angels, have had the power of the Holy Ghost upon them giving them visions and revelations, than hear any other kind of preaching that ever saluted my ears. If I could command the language and eloquence of the angels of God, I would tell you why, but the eloquence of angels never can convince any person that God lives, and makes truth the habitation of his throne, independent of that eloquence being clothed with the power of the Holy Ghost; in the absence of this, it would be a combination of useless sounds. What is it that convinces man? It is the influence of the Almighty, enlightening his mind, giving instruction to the understanding. When that which inhabits this body, that which came from the regions of glory, is enlightened by the influence, power, and Spirit of the Father of light, it swallows up the organization which pertains to this world. Those who are governed by this influence lose sight of all things pertaining to mortality, they are wholly influenced by the power of eternity, and lose sight of time. All the honor, wisdom, strength, and whatsoever is considered desirable among men, yea, all that pertains to this organization, which is in any way independent of that which came from the Father of our spirits, is obliterated to them, and they hear and understand by the same power and spirit that clothe the Deity, and the holy beings in His presence. Anything besides that influence will fail to convince any person of the truth of the Gospel of salvation. This is the reason why I love to hear men testify to the various operations of the Holy Spirit upon them—it is at once interesting and instructive. When a subject is treated upon with all the calculation, method, tact, and cunning of men, with the effusions of worldly eloquence, before a congregation endowed with the power of the Holy Ghost, and filled with the light of eternity, they can understand the subject, trace its bearings, place all its parts where they belong, and dispose of it according to the unalterable laws of truth. This makes all subjects interesting and instructive to them. But the case is quite different with those whose minds are not opened and instructed by the power of God. Sermonizing, dividing, and subdividing subjects, and building up a fine superstructure, a fanciful and aerial building, calculated to fascinate the mind, coupled with the choicest eloquence of the world, will produce no good to them. The sentiments of my mind, and the manner of my life, are to obtain knowledge by the power of the Holy Ghost. If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away.[3] But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only say, "I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord," the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true. But the wisdom of the world, I say again, is like smoke, like the fog of the night, that disappears before the rays of the luminary of day, or like the hoar-frost in the warmth of the sun's rays. My own judgment, natural endowments, and education bowed to this simple, but mighty testimony. There sits the man who baptized me, (brother Eleazer Miller.[4]) It filled my system with light, and my soul with joy. The world, with all its wisdom and power, and with all the glory and gilded show of its kings or potentates, sinks into perfect insignificance, compared with the simple, unadorned testimony of the servant of God. Jesus said, "Consider the lilies of the field," behold the splendid, yet simple beauty of their clothing; even Solomon, the greatest, and wisest of earthly kings, who swayed his scepter so as to be admired and feared by all nations—he, in all his glory could not compare with one of these lilies, which you can sever from its native stem with the least effort, admire for a moment, and then toss it from you. All that is considered valuable, precious, glorious, or magnificent among men, cannot even compare with that lily, which you tread under your feet, for beauty and excellence (JD 1:89-91).
Footnotes: [1] See also Matt. 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12; D&C 100:6. These verses aren't understood to mean no study and preparation is required, as indicated by the admonition to "treasure up" the words of life "continually." Latter-day Saints strongly emphasize scripture study, and believe that through proper preparation the Spirit can bring the needed words (typically, but not always already having been learned) to mind. To an eager Hyrum Smith the Lord counseled: Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called.
Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine.
And then, behold, according to your desires, yea, even according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
Keep my commandments; hold your peace; appeal unto my Spirit;
Yea, cleave unto me with all your heart, that you may assist in bringing to light those things of which has been spoken—yea, the translation of my work; be patient until you shall accomplish it...
Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men (D&C 11:15-21).
[2] See, for example, Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences," BYU Studies, Vol. 9, Num 3 (Spring 1969), pp. 373-404. Personal narrative and the use of stories makes history almost indiscernible from straight doctrine among Latter-day Saints. The LDS teaching manual Teaching: No Greater Call contains a section dealing with how to make use of personal narrative in teaching; including admonitions to keep stories simple and illustrative of the main point, as well as cautions against embellishment or the divulging of extremely sacred or personal experiences (see "Stories," Teaching: No Greater Call, 179). Generally, the purpose of sharing examples in Sunday School is to teach principles that are applicable to members of the Church today. Sunday School, then, is not intended to be a formal historical education, but to teach principles of the gospel through example and admonition. Such an approach cannot be called "objective," as its intention is to preach repentance. On an approach of exemplary history, see "Advocacy and Inquiry in the Writing of Latter-day Saint History," BYU Studies, Vol. 31:2 (1991), 1-41. [3] Earlier in the sermon Brigham explained his belief that no testimony could be given without the Spirit testifying of it in some manner to those who hear:
I say to all, both Saint and sinner that there is not an individual who has heard the sound of the Gospel of Salvation, the report of this work of the last days, of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and of the mission of Joseph Smith, but the Spirit of the Lord in a greater or less degree accompanied that report with power, and with the testimony of its truth, no matter as to the character of the individual, nor yet whether he admits and embraces the truth. If he has heard it in its simplicity and purity, the weight of testimony which it bears along with it, carries conviction to his mind that it may be true, although, through the influence of the world, of evil associations in life, or the instigations of the enemy of all righteousness, those convictions and impressions may be swept away, which, if exercised at the time, in sincerity, with full purpose of heart to know the truth, would have substantiated the matter to his entire satisfaction. A weight of testimony always accompanies the promulgation of the Gospel of Salvation (JD 1:88).
See also the parable of the sower, Matt. 13:3-18. [4] Parenthesis in original. I am unsure if Brigham spoke the name or merely gestured. Eleazer Miller was born November 4, 1795 in Coeymans, Albany Co, New York. (see the Alexander Neibaur Society website, accessed 5/2008). "On a cold, snowy day in April [14th] 1832, Brigham Young was baptized in the icy waters of his own millstream by Eleazer Miller, a four-month convert to the Church" (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 70.) Miller also ordained Young an Elder. By that time Brigham had been investigating Mormonism for two years (see BYU Studies Biographical Index, "Young, Brigham" Accessed 5/2008). Miller was also a member of Zion's Camp in 1834. One particular Sunday on the march, Joseph Smith encouraged the bretheren to preach as though they were from several different denominations. Heber C. Kimball described Miller as acting the part of a loud exhorter:
The services of the day were concluded by a powerful exhortation from Eleazer Miller. His voice was said to be heard a mile and a half. I would here remark concerning brother Eleazer Miller who was one of the first that brought the gospel to us in Mendon New York, when he used to retire to a little grove near my house for secret prayer, he would get so filled with the spirit and power of the Holy Ghost that he would burst out into a loud voice, so that he was heard by the surrounding inhabitants for more than a mile (Kimball, Times and Seasons 2 (1841): 443-44; 6 [1845]: 770-869).
Miller died April 12, 1876 (about one year before Brigham Young) in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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