As we pursue our quest for Eternal Life, let us pray and ask God if the things we read are true. Through the influence of the Holy Ghost, we can know the truthfulness of the things we read. This is because one of the missions of the Holy Ghost is to witness of truth. Paul referred to this mission when he said testimonies of Christ are given through the Spirit.
Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
When Paul said “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord”, he was using the word “say” in the sense of a personal witness or testimony. The Greek word that was translated “say” is epo and means to command or to tell. Paul said people can not testify of Jesus Christ unless the Holy Ghost has given them witnesses of Jesus as the Lord.
The scriptures teach that we are dual beings and are composed of physical bodies and spirits. Let us read from the scriptures about the nature of our spirits and how the Holy Ghost gives testimonies of truth to us. Paul taught that our spirits came from God.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits and live? (Hebrews 12:9)
Just as we have fathers of our physical bodies, so God is the father of our spirits. This implies that our spirits are offspring of God and are intelligent. From the book of Job we have a confirmation that our spirits are intelligent and can understand and learn.
But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. (Job 32:8)
Because they are intelligent, our spirits can communicate directly with the Holy Ghost. Paul referred to this when he taught that the Holy Ghost testifies to us through actual communication with our spirits.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16)
Now we can better understand Paul’s teaching about things of God being spiritually discerned.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
The “natural man” has broken the lines of communication with the Spirit of God. He approaches things of God with his intellect, his reason, and his rationalization. He does not understand things of God because he is using the wrong method of communication. The “spiritual man” discerns things of God because he approaches God through prayer and receives answers through communication with the Holy Ghost. Through this communication, we gain testimonies of Christ. We pray with our lips, but the answers come through spiritual communication between our spirits and the Holy Ghost.
Our Physical Senses
Because we are mortal and have physical bodies, we learn through our physical senses of sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. Everything we learn comes in some way through those senses. This physical nature of our mortality presents a dilemma concerning our receiving answers from the Holy Ghost. We receive information through spiritual communication with God, but we are limited to our physical senses for recognition of the messages. In some way, the spiritual messages must be changed into feelings that our physical senses can understand and accept. Let us look at examples of how this happens.
Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to two disciples who were traveling to Emmaus. The disciples were contemplating the recent events concerning the crucifixion and resurrection. They were sad because they did not understand the prophecies of the resurrection. Jesus appeared to them, but their eyes were holden that they should not know him (Luke 24:16). As Jesus walked with them, he explained to them the prophecies of Christ and the necessity of the crucifixion and the reality of the resurrection. At the end of their journey, he ate with them and then left them. During this meal, a wonderful thing happened. The Holy Ghost came upon them and they knew they had been talking with Jesus. The verses that describe this do not mention the Holy Ghost, but based on Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that we discussed above, we know the Holy Ghost was present because the two disciples testified that Jesus was the resurrected Christ.
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.
And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,
Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. (Luke 24:30-34, emphasis added)
Through the power of the Holy Ghost, they knew and testified that Jesus Christ had been with them, and they recognized this knowledge through feelings which they described as their heart “burning” within them. The Lord uses feelings of warmth as an indication that spiritual communication has occurred.
For another example, let us turn to the Day of Pentecost when Peter gave his masterful discourse on Jesus Christ. Thousands of people heard him speak, and they received testimonies from the Holy Ghost of the truths he was teaching. They recognized the witnesses from the Spirit as feelings in their bodies, described poetically as feelings in their hearts.
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:36-38, emphasis added)
The people heard Peter speak, and they had feelings described as a “pricking” of their hearts; they knew what Peter had said was true. The Bible does not clarify what was meant by a “pricking” of their hearts, but it was probably the feeling of warmth that was experienced by the two disciples.
The Lord revealed through Joseph Smith that feelings of warmth are used as indicators that we are in harmony with him; he also indicated that forgetfulness is used as an indicator that we are not in harmony with him. Oliver Cowdery desired to translate the plates containing the Book of Mormon, but he did not understand how the translation was to occur; he expected the Lord to dictate the translation to him. The Lord revealed that Oliver should have studied the characters on the plates and attempted to determine their meaning. Then he should have asked God if his meaning was correct. In answer, God would have revealed “yes” or “no”.
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must 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.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me. (D & C 9:7-9, emphasis added)
Another indicator used by the Lord to witness of spiritual truths is peace of mind. Oliver Cowdery desired a witness from God about Joseph Smith’s translation of the plates, and the Lord reminded him he had already received a witness.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D & C 6:22-23, emphasis added)
Trusting Our Feelings
Some people say our feelings can not be trusted concerning answers to prayer. They say testimonies of Christ come through the scriptures as our minds are enlightened by the Holy Ghost, not through our feelings. My reply to them is that knowledge and understanding do come through study as our minds are enlightened by the Spirit, but testimonies come through direct communication with God through the Holy Ghost. The two disciples felt warm feelings inside their bodies as the Spirit testified to them of Christ’s resurrection and appearance before them, and they exclaimed, “Did not our heart burn within us”. The people listening to Peter felt feelings within their bodies which Luke described as a “pricking” of their hearts. We can learn to trust our feelings as we come into greater harmony and closeness with God.