Since as members of the Church we are called to stand as witnesses of Christ, questions arise for us. How do you recognize those who are prepared for the gospel? How can you be sure that one is receptive? How do you know the gold is in the mine?
Some marvelous missionaries in our history give us understanding. Parley P. Pratt, answers for both the teacher and the hearer:
There is in every man a portion of the spirit of truth; a germ of light; a spiritual test or touchstone, which, if strictly observed, studied, and followed by its possessor, will witness to him, and will , as it were, leap forward with a warm glow of joy and sympathy, to every truthful spirit with which it comes in contact.
While by a shudder of disgust, it will recognize a false spirit, a lie. Call this spiritual magnetism, or whatever you please; it is so, and is a law of nature.
But instead of consulting this touchstone we, yet laden with frailties, erect judgments of others on superficial sands.
The Prophet Joseph Smith warned that until our heart is pure, we cannot correctly judge another.(TPJS 69).
He taught that it does not prove that a man is a bad man because he errs in doctrine. Many, he wrote, among all sects, parties and denominations are “only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.” (D&C 123:2) He admonished all to beware of being “contracted in feelings” and to remember that if Jesus were as trivial as we in judgment, none of us could hope for His ultimate blessings. (TPJS 228,238) He said we often follow the example, not of the Master but of the adversary, in making accusations. And he warned, “The devil flatters us that we are very righteous when we are feeding on the faults of others” (TPJS 241).
Yet, however, finite our faculties and however distorted our perceptions, the Prophet wrote:
It is impossible to hide a bad spirit from the eyes of them who are spiritual for it will show itself in our speaking, in our writing and in all our other conduct. It is also in vain to make great pretensions when the heart is not right. The Lord will reveal it to his faithful saints. (DHC Letter to Phelps)
And elsewhere, “You will always discover, in the first glance of a man, in the outline of his features, something of his mind.” (TPJS 299) What is in his face will reflect in his words, “A good man will speak good things and holy principles, but an evil man evil things.” (Yet he added that he preferred to the smooth-faced hypocrite a man who “swears a stream as long as my arm” and yet deals justly with his neighbor.)
The deepest in us, and in others, finds its way out, somehow, in the subtle environment we call personality. President Wilford Woodruff noted:
Men of God, who possess the spirit and power of the Holy Ghost, can form a good idea what element they are moving in – what spirits surround them; and they have only to behold a man’s face, feel of his spirit, read the productions of his pen, to know what port his ship is bound for.
Brigham Young wrote:
When you see a person at a distance, you can at times, see the spirit of that person before you have the opportunity of speaking to him; you can discern his spirit by the appearance of his countenance. This has been my experience from my younger days, and more especially since I have become acquainted with sacred things. (JD 4:21)
Elsewhere he wrote:
When I find my kindred spirit, a man or woman who possesses the Spirit of the Lord, I am acquainted with that person and feel as though we had been acquainted a long time ago. These are the men [and women] who will do good, and will never lack friends, for they will find them here and there already made, and they will prove friends indeed. My mission is to go and make more friends besides the ones I have at home and gather up the wheat from among the tares and search out Israel wherever they are. (YWJ 1:412)
Ideally, it is our calling to become (and to help others become) “transparent” to the spirit within and the Spirit above; to help remove the scales from human eyes; to “see as we are seen and know as we are known;” and to listen to what is deepest within, stripped of the facade, the preoccupations and the social superstructure that alienate us from ourselves, from other men, and from the Lord. This is our mission.
We must pray for the Spirit of the Lord until we have it; until His influence is recognizable in the enlightenment of mind and warmth of bosom. Then, preferably not until then, we should approach our role to be a missionary.
Surrounded by this “atmosphere” the hour of mutual recognition will come. As Parley P. Pratt wrote:
In the presence of such persons one feels to enjoy, the light of their countenances, as the genial rays of a sunbeam. Their very atmosphere diffuses a thrill, a warm glow of pure gladness and sympathy, to the heart and nerves of others who have kindred feelings, or sympathy of spirit.
No matter if the parties are strangers, entirely unknown to each other in person or character; no matter if they have never spoken to each other, each will be apt to remark in his own mind, and perhaps exclaim when referring to the interview, “O what an atmosphere encircles that stranger! How my heart thrilled with pure and holy feelings in his presence! What confidence and sympathy he inspired! His countenance and spirit gave me assurance than a thousand written recommendations or introductory letters.” (Key to the Science of Theology)
Brigham H. Roberts wrote:
There is a power in man by which he may intuitively cognize truth. His spirit is native to the inspiration of God. And as two flames when brought nearly together seem to leap forward each to meet the other and blend in one blaze, so the spirit that is in man, being native to the truth and the inspiration from God leap forward to unite and bear witness of that truth.” (Liahona, Vol 20, No. 23, p. 437)
All that glitters is not gold. All that seems shabby is not worthless.
At the outset, your own light and that of others may be dim and flickering. But as you persist the “Father of Lights” will increase the light. And just as objects become visible in a dark room as one pulls the curtain, so by the touchstone of the Spirit, your spirit and the spirit of those you would teach the gospel will shine through. And the foundations of conversion will be laid.