The Holy Ghost
by Joseph Fielding McConkie
THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints teaches that the Holy Ghost is a spirit man, a spirit son of God the Father. It is fundamental Church doctrine that God is the Father of the spirits of all men and women, that Jesus is literally God's Son both in the spirit and in the flesh, and that the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit separate and distinct from both the Father and the Son. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Eternal Godhead, and is identified also as the Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of the Lord, and the comforter. All three members of the Godhead were manifested at Jesus' baptism (Mark 1:9-12; see also Dove, Sign of). Regarding them the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us" (D&C 130:22). In a figurative sense, the Holy Ghost dwells in the hearts of the righteous Saints of all dispensations (D&C 20:18-21).
Joseph Smith also stated that an "everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth, and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth; these personages are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the witness or Testator" (TPJS, p. 190).
Latter-day Saints understand that by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel Adam received the Holy Ghost and thus learned that redemption from the Fall will come through Christ to all who accept him (Moses 5:6-9). Thus, the gospel was preached from the beginning, being declared by angels, by the voice of God, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost (Moses 5:58-59; cf. 2 Pet. 1:21). Nephi1 (c. 600 B.C.) testified that the Holy Ghost is "the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men . For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come" (1 Ne. 10:17-19).
Joseph Smith taught that the influence of the Holy Ghost, which is the convincing power of God of the truth of the gospel, can be received before baptism, but the gift, or constant companionship, of the Holy Ghost, which comes by the laying-on of hands, is obtained only after baptism (TPJS, p. 199). "You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man," he said, "if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other halfthat is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost" (TPJS, p. 314). Thus, a person is expected to receive the witness of the Holy Ghost to the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, of scripture, and of the words of the living prophets before baptism; the full outpouring of the Spirit does not come, however, until the person has complied with the command to be baptized. Only after baptism can the gift be conferred by one in authority (Moro. 10:3-5; D&C 76:52). And even then the Holy Ghost cannot be received by someone who is not worthy of it, since the Holy Ghost will not dwell in the heart of an unrighteous person. Thus, the actual companionship of the Holy Ghost may be received immediately after baptism or at a subsequent time, when the one receiving the promise becomes a fit companion for that holy being. Should the individual cease thereafter to be clean and obedient, the Holy Ghost will withdraw (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
The Holy Ghost is a sanctifier. Because no unclean thing can dwell in a divine presence, the whole system of salvation centers on the process of sanctification; people are saved to the extent that they are sanctified. Sanctification and holiness are inseparable. "To be sanctified is to become clean, pure, and spotless; to be free from the blood and sins of the world; to become a new creature of the Holy Ghost, one whose body has been renewed by the rebirth of the Spirit. Sanctification is a state of saintliness, a state attained only by conformity to the laws and ordinances of the gospel" (MD, p. 675).
The Holy Ghost is a revelator. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "no man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations" (TPJS, p. 328). To enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost is to enjoy the spirit of revelation (D&C 8:2-3). Without revelation there can be no competent witness of Christ or his gospel (Rev. 19:10). The Holy Ghost is the source of all saving knowledge. Those who sincerely and prayerfully seek this knowledge are promised that everything expedient will be revealed to them (D&C 18:18). Nephi testified that Christ manifests himself "unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith" (2 Ne. 26:13; cf. 1 Cor. 2:11-13; D&C 76:116).
The Holy Ghost is a teacher. All who will be saved must be tutored by the Holy Ghost. The things of the Spirit can only be understood when taught and learned by the Spirit (D&C 50:11-24). The divine commission to teach the truths of salvation rests with the Holy Ghost. Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 4:1). "He spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him" (JST Matt. 3:25). The Father gave Christ the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Angels also speak by the power of the Holy Ghost (2 Ne. 32:3). Such is the standard for all who go forth in Christ's name. "Ye are not sent forth to be taught," the Savior said to the early Latter-day Saints, "but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit; and ye are to be taught from on high. Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power, that ye may give even as I have spoken" (D&C 43:15-16).
Describing the influence of the Holy Ghost as it fell upon him and Oliver Cowdery, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, "We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation. Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of" (JSH 1:73-74; cf. Alma 5:46). The Holy Ghost also brings to remembrance that which has previously been learned (John 14:26), directs that for which one should pray (D&C 46:30), and makes known what is to be spoken in preaching and teaching (D&C 84:85).
The Holy Ghost is the Comforter. A distinctive characteristic of the truths of salvation is that they are attended by a spirit of comfort and peace. It is the office of the Holy Ghost to lift burdens, give courage, strengthen faith, grant consolation, extend hope, and reveal whatever is needed to those having claim on his sacred companionship (Moses 6:61).
Jesus taught that no sin is greater than the sin against the Holy Ghost (Matt. 12:31-32). A latter-day revelation explains, "The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God" (D&C 132:27). Joseph Smith observed further that such a one rejects the Son after the Father has revealed him, denies the truth, and defies the Plan of Salvation. "From that time he begins to be an enemy . He gets the spirit of the devilthe same spirit that they had who crucified the Lord of Lifethe same spirit that sins against the Holy Ghost. You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance; they make open war, like the devil, and awful is the consequence" (TPJS, p. 357-58; cf. D&C 76:31-38, 43-48; see also Unpardonable Sin).
The Holy Ghost is such an uplifting power and source of necessary gospel knowledge that to have his constant companionship and influence is the greatest gift a person can receive in mortality (cf. D&C 121:46). It is reported that on one occasion, when the Prophet Joseph Smith was asked, "Wherein [the LDS Church] differed from the other religions of the day," he replied, that it was in "the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying-on of hands, [and] that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost" (HC 4:42).
McConkie, Bruce R. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, chaps. 28-31. Salt Lake City, 1985.
McConkie, Joseph Fielding, and Robert L. Millet. The Holy Ghost. Salt Lake City, 1989.