Spiritual Gifts Characteristic of the Church-It has been already affirmed, that all men who would officiate with propriety in the ordinances of the Gospel must be commissioned for their exalted duties by the authority of heaven. When so invested, these servants of the Lord will not be lacking in proofs of their divine commission; for it is characteristic of the ways of God that He manifests His power by the bestowal of a variety of ennobling graces, which are properly called gifts of the Spirit. These are oftentimes exhibited in a manner so different from the usual order of things as to be called miraculous and supernatural. In this way did the Lord make Himself known in the early times of scriptural history; and from the days of Adam until the present, prophets of God have generally been endowed with such power. Whenever the power of Priesthood has operated through an organized Church on the earth, the members have been strengthened in their faith and otherwise blessed in numerous related ways, by the possession of these gifts. We may safely regard the existence of these spiritual powers as one of the essential characteristics of the (Mormon) Church; where they are not, the Priesthood of God does not operate.
Mormon solemnly declared that the days of miracles will not pass from the Church, as long as there shall be a man upon the earth to be saved. “For,” says he, “it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.” And Moroni, standing in expectation of early departure from the earth, bore an independent testimony, that the gifts and graces of the Spirit will never be done away as long as the world shall stand, except it be through the unbelief of mankind.
Hear the words of this prophet addressed to those “who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues; Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them. For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.”
Nature of Spiritual Gifts-The gifts here spoken of are essentially endowments of power and authority, through which the purposes of God are accomplished, sometimes with accompanying conditions that may appear to be supernatural. By such the sick are healed, malignant influences overcome, spirits of darkness subdued; the saints, humble and weak, proclaim their testimonies and otherwise utter praises unto God in new and strange tongues while others interpret their words; human intellect is invigorated by the heavenly touch of spiritual vision and dreams to see and comprehend things ordinarily withheld from mortal senses; direct communication with the fountain of all wisdom is established, and the revelations of the divine are obtained.
These gifts have been promised of the Lord unto those who believe in His name, and are to follow obedience to the requirements of the Gospel. Among believers they are to serve for encouragement, and as incentives to higher communion with the Spirit. They are not given as signs to gratify carnal curiosity; nor to satisfy a morbid craving for the spectacular. Men have been led to the light through manifestations of the miraculous; but events in the lives of these show that they are either such as would have found a knowledge of the truth in some other way, or they are but superficially affected, and as soon as the novelty of the new sensation has exhausted itself they wander again into the darkness from which they had for the time emerged. Miracles are not primarily intended, surely they are not needed, to prove the power of God; the simpler occurrences, the more ordinary works of creation do that. But unto the heart already softened and purified by the testimony of the truth, to the mind enlightened through the Spirit’s power and conscious of obedient service in the requirements of the Gospel, the voice of miracles comes with cheering tidings, with fresh and more abundant evidences of the magnanimity of an all-merciful God.
Yet even to the unbeliever the testimony of miracles should appeal, at least to the extent of argument for an investigation of the power through which they are wrought; and in such cases miracles are as “a loud voice addressed to those who are hard of hearing.” The purpose of spiritual gifts in the (Mormon) Church is explicitly set forth in a revelation from the Lord through Joseph Smith: “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given; For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.”
Miracles are commonly regarded as occurrences in opposition to the laws of nature. Such a conception is plainly erroneous, for the laws of nature are inviolable. However, as human understanding of these laws is at best but imperfect, events strictly in accordance with natural law may appear contrary thereto. The entire constitution of nature is founded on system and order; the laws of nature, however, are graded as are the laws of man. The operation of a higher law in any particular case does not destroy the actuality of an inferior one. For example, society has enacted a law forbidding any man appropriating the property of another; yet oftentimes officers of the law forcibly seize the possessions of their fellowmen against whom judgments may have been rendered; and such acts are done to satisfy, not to violate justice. Jehovah commanded, “Thou shalt not kill,” and mankind has reenacted the law, prescribing penalties for violation thereof. Yet sacred history testifies, that, in certain cases, the Lawgiver Himself has directly commanded that justice be vindicated by the taking of human life. The judge who passes the extreme sentence upon a convicted murderer, and the executioner who carries the mandate into effect act not in opposition to “Thou shalt not kill” but actually in support of this decree.
With some of the principles upon which the powers of nature operate we are in a degree acquainted; and in contemplating them we are no longer surprised, though deeper reflection may show that even the commonest phenomena are but little understood. But any event beyond the ordinary is regarded by the less thoughtful as miraculous, supernatural, if not indeed unnatural. When the prophet Elisha caused the ax to float in the river, he brought to his service a power superior to that of gravity. Without doubt the iron was heavier than the water; yet by the operation of this higher force it was supported, suspended, or otherwise sustained at the surface, as if it were held there by a human hand or rendered sufficiently buoyant by attached floaters.
Wine ordinarily consists of about four-fifths water, the rest being a variety of chemical compounds the elements of which are abundantly present in the air and soil. The ordinary method-what we term the natural method-of bringing these elements into proper combination is by planting the grape, then cultivating the vine till the fruit is ready to yield its juices in the press. But by a power not within purely human reach, Jesus Christ at the marriage in Cana brought those elements together, and effected a chemical transmutation within the waterpots resulting in the production of wine. So, too, when the multitudes were fed, under His priestly touch and authoritative blessing the bread and fish substance increased as if months had been covered by their growth according to what we consider the natural order. In the healing of the leprous, the palsied, and the infirm, the disordered bodily parts were brought again into their normal and healthful state, the impurities operating as poisons in the tissues were removed by means more rapid and effectual than those which depend upon the action of medicine.
No earnest observer, no reasoning mind, can doubt the existence of intelligences and organisms that the unaided senses of man do not reveal. This world is the temporal embodiment of things spiritual. The Creator has told us that He formed all things spiritual before they were made temporal. The flowers that flourish and die on earth are perhaps represented beyond by imperishable blossoms of beauty and fragrance. Man is shaped after the image of Deity; his mind, though darkened by custom and weakened by injurious habit, is still a fallen type of immortal thought; and though the space separating the human and the divine in thought, desire, and action, be as wide as that between sea and sky, for as the stars are above the earth so are the ways of God above those of man, yet we may affirm an analogy between the spiritual and the temporal. When the eyes of Elisha’s servant were opened, the man saw the hosts of heavenly warriors covering the mountains about Dothan-footmen, horsemen, and chariots, armed for fight against the Syrians. May we not believe that when Israel encompassed Jericho, the captain of the Lord’s host and his heavenly train were there, and that before their supermortal agency, sustained by the faith and obedience of the human army, the walls were leveled?
Some of the latest and highest achievements of man in the utilization of natural forces approach the conditions of spiritual operations. To count the ticking of a watch thousands of miles away; to speak in but an ordinary tone and be heard across the continent; to signal from one hemisphere and be understood on the other though oceans roll and roar between; to bring the lightning into our homes and make it serve as fire and torch; to navigate the air and to travel beneath the ocean surface; to make chemical and atomic energies obey our will–are not these miracles? The possibility of such would not have been received with credence before their actual accomplishment. Nevertheless, these and all other miracles are accomplished through the operation of the laws of nature, which are the laws of God.
An Enumeration of the Gifts of the Spirit cannot be made complete by man; yet the more common of these spiritual manifestations have been specified by inspired writers, and by the word of revelation. Paul writing to the Corinthian saints, Moroni inditing his last appeal to the Lamanites, and the voice of the Lord directed to the people of His Church in this dispensation, each names many of the specific gifts of the Spirit. From these scriptures we learn that every man has received some gift from God; and in the great diversity of gifts all do not receive the same. “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration. And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal. And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom. To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge. And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed; And to others it is given to have faith to heal. And again, to some is given the working of miracles; And to others it is given to prophesy; And to others the discerning of spirits. And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues; And to another is given the interpretation of tongues. And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.”