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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 12: “Seek the Spirit in All You Do”

Chapter 12: “Seek the Spirit in All You Do”

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 156–66

During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

“We must remain open and sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost in all aspects of our lives.”

 “How do we obtain the Spirit? ‘By the prayer of faith,’ says the Lord.”

We should strive for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost all the days of our lives.

These statements, at face value, are ones with which I can agree. However, as the rest of this review will attest, there are differences in the perspectives held between Evangelical Christians and Latter-day Saints.

One sure way we can determine whether we are on the strait and narrow path is that we will possess the Spirit of the Lord in our lives.

According to Benson, having the Holy Ghost requires walking the “strait and narrow path.” If you’re not walking down this road, the idea is that you must not have the Holy Ghost. Yet there are times when a Christian may not be filled with the Spirit yet not lose the forgiveness given by God.  Mormonism is all about keeping commandments and doing the impossible. If that is the case, nobody can know that they have God in their lives.

Having the Holy Ghost brings forth certain fruits.

The Apostle Paul said that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.” (Gal. 5:22–23.)

The most important thing in our lives is the Spirit. I have always felt that. We must remain open and sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost in all aspects of our lives. … These promptings most often come when we are not under the pressure of appointments and when we are not caught up in the worries of day-to-day life.

Spirituality—being in tune with the Spirit of the Lord—is the greatest need we all have. We should strive for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost all the days of our lives. When we have the Spirit, we will love to serve, we will love the Lord, and we will love those with whom we serve, and those whom we serve.

I agree in principle with the importance of the fruit of the Spirit. As a Christian believer, I strive for love, joy, peace, patience, etc. My problem, however, is that Mormonism requires the “fruit” (worthiness) as a prerequisite for having the Holy Ghost, not just “proof” of a person’s salvation. This idea runs contrary to what the Bible teaches.

Several years after Joseph Smith was martyred, he appeared to President Brigham Young. Hear his message:

“Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it.” …

Shouldn’t we be bothered that Joseph Smith, a man who lived and then died as a human being, makes an appearance to his succeeding president? First of all, it is necessary to trust Brigham Young to believe such an event even took place. There were no witnesses. But second, what biblical support do we have that deceased humans can communicate with the living? The only reference I can come up with the story involves Saul and the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28), and Saul lost his life for doing what he had commanded the people not to do.

This latter-day work is spiritual. It takes spirituality to comprehend it, to love it, and to discern it. Therefore seek the Spirit in all you do. Keep it with you continually. That is our challenge.

We live in a very wicked world. We are surrounded with propaganda that evil is good and good is evil. False teachings abound that affect us. Almost everything that is wholesome, good, pure, uplifting, and strengthening is being challenged as never before.

I have to agree, we do live in a world that seems to celebrate the immorally wrong choices. Christians are said to be “in” the world but are not “of” the world (John 17:16). I agree too that we should seek the Spirit. But should we seek it according to Benson and the Mormon religion? This is where we part ways.

One reason we are on this earth is to discern between truth and error. This discernment comes by the Holy Ghost, not just our intellectual faculties.

This is an obvious slap at apologetics and testing everything, as so commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Yet verse after verse can be shown how believers shouldn’t just drink the Kool-Aid but “discern between truth and error.” We must do proper research, and if it is disagreeable to a correct reading of the Bible, we should reject anyone teaching contrary to the truth. In Acts 17:11, we are told how the Bereans “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”  Paul is the one who preached the gospel to these people; if anyone should be believed, he should! Yet these Bereans were honored for taking his words and then comparing them to the Old Testament scriptures to see if what they were being taught was true. Consider the following passages to support such a notion:

Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

Matthew 24:24: “”For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. “

1 John 4:1: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”

Discernment comes through our intellectual faculties—brains given to us by God—in order to determine if what is being taught is the real deal. Faith is important as well, don’t get me wrong. But if the evidence goes against a particular teacher or the religion as a whole, the wise man should run away as fast as he can.

When we earnestly and honestly seek for the truth, this beautiful promise finds fulfillment: “God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:26)

If we are humble and sensitive, the Lord will prompt us through our feelings.

The problem with feelings is that they too often mislead us. At one time or another, all of us—Mormons included—have been fooled by our feelings, no matter how sincere we might have been. For example, Mormons believe that marriage is not only for life but also for eternity. Should it be assumed that the many LDS couples who are divorced did not pray about their relationships beforehand? Surely knowing information about another person that could have exposed potential behavior problems—such as drug addiction, sex addiction, pornography issues, inward apathy to God, or repressed anger—would have helped with making a more informed decision. Yet how many Mormons must have “felt” God’s approval in relationships that were tragically doomed from the beginning?

Pray to Heavenly Father to bless you with His Spirit at all times. We often call the Spirit the Holy Ghost. … The Holy Ghost helps you to choose the right. The Holy Ghost will protect you from evil. He whispers to you in a still, small voice to do right. When you do good, you feelgood, and that is the Holy Ghost speaking to you. The Holy Ghost is a wonderful companion. He is alwaysthere to help you.

Ponder matters that you do not understand. As the Lord commanded Oliver Cowdery: “Study it out in your mind; then … 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.” (D&C 9:8, italics added.)

Did you notice that last phrase? “You shall feel that it is right.”

We hear the words of the Lord most often by a feeling. If we are humble and sensitive, the Lord will prompt us through our feelings. That is why spiritual promptings move us on occasion to great joy, sometimes to tears. Many times my emotions have been made tender and my feelings very sensitive when touched by the Spirit.

The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16–17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven. If the Bible disproves a spiritual truth claim, it must be rejected.

The Holy Ghost causes our feelings to be more tender. We feel more charitable and compassionate with each other. We are more calm in our relationships. We have a greater capacity to love each other. People want to be around us because our very countenances radiate the influence of the Spirit. We are more godly in our character. As a result, we become increasingly more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and thus able to comprehend spiritual things more clearly.

Wow, isn’t it amazing how trusting in feelings can somehow make a person more: 1) tender; 2) charitable and compassionate; 3) calm; 4) able to love; 5) desired for people to be around. This is total hogwash, pardon the French. A person who trusts primarily in his or her feelings does notcomprehend spiritual things more clearly. Instead, that person believes whatever he or she wants to believe because it feels good. It might feel good to eat a brownie with arsenic in it, but one’s feelings does not cause the poison to go away.

To the Mormon who is reading this, I already provided biblical reasons why it is crucial to beware of what we ingest when it comes to spiritual issues. In response, I would ask you to provide a biblical passage or two that you believe suggests the importance of checking our brains at the door and accepting our feelings at face value.

We obtain the Spirit through sincere prayer and fasting.

How do we obtain the Spirit? “By the prayer of faith,” says the Lord [D&C 42:14]. Therefore, we must pray with sincerity and real intent. We must pray for increased faith and pray for the Spirit to accompany our teaching. We should ask the Lord for forgiveness.

If you want to get the spirit of your office and calling … try fasting for a period. I don’t mean just missing one meal, then eating twice as much the next meal. I mean really fasting, and praying during that period. It will do more to give you the real spirit of your office and calling and permit the Spirit to operate through you than anything I know.

Prayer and fasting are important to the Evangelical Christian, no doubt. At the same time, what good are prayer and fasting activities if the religion continues to be based on the false teachings of a religious organization? If the biblical teachings contradict the religion and its leaders, then no amount of prayer and fasting can make the errors go away.

Daily scripture study, including meditation on passages of scripture, invites the Spirit.

OK, now we’re on to something. Study scripture! But wait. Didn’t Benson earlier say we should be wary of our intellect? So if reading and then reflecting on these passages requires our brains, not so much our faith, then isn’t his previous teaching contradictory?

Search the scriptures diligently in personal study every day. Daily scripture study invites the Spirit.

Take time to meditate. Meditation on a passage of scripture—James 1:5—led a young boy into a grove of trees to commune with his Heavenly Father. That is what opened the heavens in this dispensation.

Ahh, James 1:5, the verse supposedly used by Joseph Smith to pray about which church was true. This verse is commonly used along with Moroni 10:4 as encouragement to pray about the Book of Mormon.

If praying about the Book of Mormon is the means for finding truth, shouldn’t this test also apply to other religious books? It is curious how very few Mormons have taken the time and effort to read (and pray about) the scriptures of other religions. Using the rationale that people should pray about Mormonism’s scripture, why shouldn’t every religion’s scriptures—such as the Qu’ran (Islam), the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism), and the Tripitaka (Buddhism)—also be read and contemplated through prayer? How can the Mormon know the accuracy of Mormonism until he or she personally tests all religions in this way? Though we should most certainly use prayer to guide us in our search for truth, it should not be the only litmus test. Hopefully, prayer will lead us to the information we need in order to make an informed and proper decision.

And one more thing. If we’re supposed to receive this understanding by reading the Book of Mormon, why won’t reading part of it do? (In other words, what is so special about reading the whole book?) In fact, the missionaries usually bring up Moroni 10:4 at the end of their scripture before the potential convert ever has a chance to read it. It involves the rest of the story. According to Moroni 10:4, what seems to be most important is a person’s intent and sincerity. So why not just pray to God about the Book of Mormon and skip reading it? If it’s true, won’t God show it to be true in the same manner?

The test is disingenuous. This is because the Book of Mormon does not teach the fundamental points of the Mormon religion…in fact, it even seems to contradict the church in many points. The test would seem to be better served by reading the Doctrine and Covenants, for example, which contains far more current teaching of Mormonism than anything found in the Book of Mormon. For more, see here.

Meditation on a passage of scripture from the book of John in the New Testament brought forth the great revelation on the three degrees of glory [see John 5:29;D&C 76].

At least this is what Joseph Smtih claimed. It’s fascinating how this teaching is certainly not found in either the Bible or, for that matter, the Book of Mormon. (There we go again!)

Meditation on another passage of scripture from the Epistle of Peter opened the heavens to President Joseph F. Smith, and he saw the spirit world. That revelation, known as the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead, is now a part of the Doctrine and Covenants [see 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6; D&C 138].

These biblical passages are taken out of context to make them say something the apostle never intended. For more on this issue, see 1 Peter 3 and 1 Peter 4.

Ponder the significance of the responsibility the Lord has given to us. The Lord has counseled, “Let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds.” (D&C 43:34.) You cannot do that when your minds are preoccupied with the cares of the world.

Read and study the scriptures. The scriptures should be studied in the home with fathers and mothers taking the lead and setting the example. The scriptures are to be comprehended by the power of the Holy Ghost, for the Lord has given this promise to His faithful and obedient: “Thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things.” (D&C 42:61.)

The more familiar you are with the scriptures, the closer you become to the mind and will of the Lord and the closer you become as husband and wife and children. You will find that by reading the scriptures the truths of eternity will rest on your minds.

Of course, when Benson refers to the “scriptures,” he means the Bible along with the three other unique LDS “scriptures.” Instead of relying on these and having to put complete trust in Joseph Smith, I suggest doing what second President Brigham Young said:

Take up the Bible; compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 126)

The Holy Ghost will abide with us as we honor, respect, and obey God’s laws.

According to Ezra Taft Benson and the Mormon religion, there can be no assurance of salvation. If you obey the laws, the Holy Spirit is with you. Disobey and he is far away. What a hopeless predicament for any person who has blood pumping through his or her veins!

We have been taught that the Spirit will not dwell in unclean tabernacles [see Helaman 4:24]. Therefore, one of our first priorities is to make sure our own personal lives are in order.

Our first priority ought to be to surrender our lives to God. We have nothing to bring to the table. When we understand that fact, then Jesus can do the necessary surgery and create a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).

Let me talk about obedience. You’re learning now to keep all the commandments of the Lord. As you do so, you will have His Spirit to be with you. You’ll feel good about yourselves. You can’t do wrong and feel right. It’s impossible!

Many Mormons interpret their religion’s mantra of “obey, obey, obey” to mean they need to attain perfection. Often Matthew 5:48 (“be ye perfect”) is referenced. Referring to this topic, Christian theologians Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes write,

This verse does not mean human beings can actually become perfect in this life. . . . The context of this verse is that the Jewish leaders had taught that we should love those near and dear to us (Lev. 19:18), but hate our enemies. Jesus, however, said we should love even our enemies. After all, Jesus said, God’s love extends to all people (Matt. 5:45). And since God is our righteous standard, we should seek to be as he is in this regard. We are to be “perfect” (or “complete”) in loving others as he is perfect. Furthermore, the Bible certainly does not give support to the idea that we can actually attain sinless perfection in this life, for all of us are fallen and sin continually (1 John 1:8). The good news is that by trusting in Jesus, his perfection becomes ours: “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14 nasb). (When Cultists Ask, pp. 100-101)

In some ways there is a parallel between Mormons who think they only need more time to make things right and the servant in Jesus’ story in Matthew 18:23–27. In this passage Jesus tells of a servant who owed the king an insurmountable debt of ten thousand talents. The servant pleaded with the king to have patience with him. Somehow, he thought having more time would solve his problem. Thankfully for him, the king had compassion and canceled the debt. In Luke 7:36–50, Jesus forgave a woman of her sins for no other reason than that she was worshipping Him. She was not required to go through a repentance process.

Understandably, some Mormons feel a great amount of anxiety in not knowing whether they have done enough to secure their forgiveness. This could be because they have blurred the lines between what justifies a person (or makes them right) with God and what sanctifies (or sets them apart) unto God. This dilemma was explained in a sermon by Anglican bishop J. C. Ryle (1816–1900):

I am persuaded that one great cause of the darkness and uncomfortable feelings of many well-meaning people in the matter of religion is their habit of confounding, and not distinguishing, justification and sanctification. It can never be too strongly impressed on our minds that they are two separate things. No doubt they cannot be divided, and everyone that is a partaker of either is a partaker of both. But never, never ought they to be confounded, and never ought the distinction between them to be forgotten.

Christians are justified, or made right with God, because of what Jesus did on the cross (cf. Rom. 9:16; Eph. 2:8–10; Titus 3:4–7). Princeton theologian Benjamin B. Warfield (1851–1921) succinctly summed up this incredible act when he said,

Justification by Faith, we see, is not to be set in contradiction to justification by Works. It is set in contradiction only to justification by our Own Works. It is justification by Christ’s Works. (“Justification by Faith, Out of Date?” The Christian Irishman, Dublin, May 1911. p. 71).

Christians can be confident of their forgiveness because it has nothing to do with their personal merit or performance. The same cannot be said for those who are hoping to gain their justification through their good works.

The temporal promise for obedience [to the Word of Wisdom] is: They “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; … [they] shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” (D&C 89:18, 20.) I have always felt, however, that the greater blessing of obedience to the Word of Wisdom and all other commandments is spiritual. Listen to the spiritual promise: “All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, … shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” (D&C 89:18, 19; italics added.)

In Mormonism, it’s all about keeping the commandments. Regarding this paragraph by Benson, I’m not sure how observing dietary law is a spiritual act of worship. Colossians 2:16-23 (ESV) seem to deal directly with this type of worldview:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Some have thought this promise was contingent on just keeping the provisions of the Word of Wisdom. But you will notice we must walk in obedience to all the commandments. Then we shall receive specific spiritual promises. This means we must obey the law of tithing, keep the Sabbath day holy, keep morally clean and chaste, and obey all other commandments.

Living the commandments of God is a condition of worthiness for entrance into the House of the Lord. There wisdom and “great treasures of knowledge” are given that relate to our happiness in this life and joy throughout eternity. …

I do not believe that a member of the Church can have an active, vibrant testimony of the gospel without keeping the commandments. A testimony is to have current inspiration to know the work is true, not something we receive only once. The Holy Ghost abides with those who honor, respect, and obey God’s laws. And it is that Spirit which gives inspiration to the individual. Humbly I testify to the reality of this promise.

Ahh, once more, I can hear the familiar refrain:

Keep the commandments, keep the commandments,

You can know you are a child of God by how you keep the commandments.

Keep them all, keep them all, until the day you are ready to leave.

And then maybe, just maybe, you have a chance with God to cleave.

Salvation according to Mormonism cannot be done without consistent commandment keeping. Latter-day Saint, just how are you doing at that?


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