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Gifts of the Spirit are among the signs that “follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17), and whenever the true Church of God is upon the earth, these gifts are given to the obedient. Eager to receive such gifts, many early members of the Church were caught up in spiritual excesses that were common to the revivalist meetings of the day, and in the early days of Kirtland, Joseph Smith observed “many false spirits were introduced…many ridiculous things entered into … that would cause the Spirit of God to be withdrawn”[i]
At the same period, Parley P. Pratt said, “As I went forth among the different branches, some very strange spiritual operations were manifested, which were disgusting rather than edifying. Some persons would seem to swoon away, and make unseemly gestures, and be drawn or disfigured in their countenances. Others would fall into ecstasies, and be drawn into contortions, cramp, fits, etc. Others would seem to have visions and revelations which were not edifying, and which were not congenial to the doctrine and spirit of the gospel. In short, a false and lying spirit seemed to be creeping into the Church.”[ii]
Church authorities, at that time, moved quickly against these dangerous practices, and in March of 1831, D&C 46 was given. In this revelation, the Lord sets forth a warning against being deceived and then admonishes the Saints to “seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given” (D&C 46:8).
Why Gifts Are Given
But why are gifts given? They are not given to convince unbelievers or to show off supernatural power. They are not given to satisfy a person’s vain desires or to inflate self-importance as one who is favored of God. Instead, they are endowments of power and authority through which God accomplishes his purposes. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “By the grace of God-following devotion, faith, and obedience on man’s part-certain special spiritual blessings called gifts of the Spirit are bestowed upon men. Their receipt is always predicated upon obedience to law, but because they are freely available to all the obedient, they are called gifts. They are signs and miracles reserved for the faithful and for none else.
“Their purpose,” said Elder McConkie , “is to enlighten, encourage, and edify the faithful so that they will inherit peace in this life and be guided toward eternal life in the world to come. Their presence is proof of the divinity of the Lord’s work; where they are not found, there the Church and kingdom of God is not.”[iii]
This further explanation is given in Section 46 about why gifts are given: “They are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments.” That all is a daunting word to those of us in mortality who find ourselves falling short, but thankfully the Lord continues that the gifts are also given to “him that seeketh so to do.” In other words, God recognizes that we are in process, not yet whole, and gives us his gifts while we are still on the journey. This divine generosity comes “that all may be benefited, that seek or that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts” (D&C 46:9).
Who Receives the Gifts
Elder Dallin Oaks said that spiritual gifts come to those who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, the gifts of the Spirit “are obtained through that medium [the Holy Ghost] and cannot be enjoyed without the gift of the Holy Ghost …The world in general can know nothing about them.”[iv]
Just as the Holy Ghost is conferred on both men and women, so are spiritual gifts. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie declared in Nauvoo at the dedication of the Monument to Women: “Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness-in all things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord. He is no respecter of persons nor of sexes, and he blesses those men and those women who seek him and serve him and keep his commandments.”[v]
Section 46 teaches us that “all have not every gift given to them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God (D&C 46:11). That is good news, indeed. Everyone who has the gift of the Holy Ghost and is obedient receives a gift. The Lord asks us to seek earnestly for these gifts, and it is appropriate as well to seek earnestly to understand what gifts we personally have been given that we might magnify and act upon them. Gifts of the spirit are often quiet. We might not be fully aware that a light that flows steadily through our being that brings testimony or discernment or faith is actually our gift, granted directly from heaven.
It is glorious wisdom in the Lord that not all of us have all the gifts for it is in needing one another that we learn service, love and compassion. While we are still spiritually immature, we might envy another’s gifts or feel unduly cheated that we have not been given exactly that set of spiritual gifts given to another. Yet how would we learn to depend on each other or give to each other if we did not need the blessings of the gifts of others?
Paul, in his discussion of spiritual gifts in Corinthians 12, compares all of us who are members of the Church to parts of one body. He asked, “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? …And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:15-21) The analogy is clear – we cannot do without each other and the gifts of the Spirit each bring to bless and edify.
Can We List the Gifts of the Spirit?
Three major discussions in scripture found in D&C 46, 1 Corinthians 12, and Moroni 10 list some of the gifts of the Spirit. These include but are not limited to such gifts as to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, to have the faith to heal, to have the faith to be healed, to work miracles, to prophesy, to have the gift of discernment, to have the gift of tongues, to have the interpretation of tongues. Though these specific gifts are listed, it is also true that it would be impossible to list the gifts of the Spirit for they are many and varied, and that the Spirit sheds its gifts in innumerable ways-all for the blessing of God’s children and to work His mighty works here on earth.
That the power and authority of God had been restored in the latter-days was evident from the earliest time in the Church. Parley, who so vividly described the excesses of those taken with a false spirit, also records sweet manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit at the same time in Kirtland. He wrote of a woman named Chloe Smith who had been brought so low with a lingering illness that she seemed on death’s door. “Under these circumstances, President Smith and myself, with several other Elders, called to see her. She was so low that no one had been allowed for some days previous to speak above a whisper, and even the door of the log dwelling was muffled with cloths to prevent a noise.
“We kneeled down and prayed vocally all around, each in turn, after which President Smith arose, went to the bedside, took her by the hand, and said unto her with a loud voice, ‘in the name of Jesus Christ arise and walk!” She immediately arose, was dressed by a woman in attendance, when she walked to a chair before the fire, and was seated and joined in singing a hymn. The house was thronged with people in a few moments, and the young lady arose and shook hands with each as they came in; and from that minute she was restored to health.”[vi]
To today’s Church members this is a sweet story, but not a unique one. Latter-day Saints today experience all of the gifts of the Spirit known anciently as a heritage and as a reality in their lives. Millions know what is it to be moved by the Spirit to a testimony of Jesus Christ. Missionaries are given to master difficult foreign languages to discharge their duties. Most of us feel and know the guidance of the Spirit. The Church is guided by the voice of God, and our lives are marked by the gifts He freely gives through the Spirit.
[i] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith , comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938) pp. 213-214
[ii] Proctor, Scot Facer, and Proctor, Maurine Jensen, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Revised and Enhanced Edition (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book: 2001) pp. 71-72
[iii] Bruce R. McConkie , Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft , 1965-1973), 2:368