Summary: When Joseph Smith was alive, he received many great and marvelous revelation, but when Joseph died, it seemed as though such visions and revelations ended. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are still expecting that one day the President of the Church will announce having received yet another glorious vision that will reveal more of the hidden mysteries of the kingdom of God, but is this the correct interpretation of our 9th Article of Faith? This article looks at what this Article of Faith actually says.
The ninth article of faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reads, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
For example, Joseph Smith received such a revelation that has been recorded in the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants which tells us that everyone will be save in one of three degrees of glory – celestial, terrestrial, or telestial. When this revelation was first given, it was revolutionary in its concept, but as the years went on Joseph Smith continued to receive greater revelations that revealed even more hidden mysteries about the kingdom of God.
In 1842 Joseph taught about how the living could be baptized for the dead (D&C 128) which was a completely foreign concept to the Christian world. In 1843 he received a revelation about the three degrees within the celestial kingdom (D&C 131), and later that year he received another revelation that husbands and wives could remain married throughout all eternity. These were truly great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
But when Joseph died, it seemed as though such visions and revelations ended. It wasn’t until 1918 when the next grand vision was received by Joseph F. Smith, who was president of the church at that time. In that revelation he saw the spirit world and how, when the body of Jesus laid in the grave, he visited the spirit world and organized the righteous people there to take the gospel to those who had died without ever having heard it in mortality. He also saw how there is a great missionary work that is going on there to save the souls of men. This too was something that no one in the Christian world knew about or believed, and so the church received yet another great and important mystery concerning the kingdom of God.
But since then, there has not been any more such grand visions or revelations.
When people read the 9th Article of Faith about how God is going to reveal yet “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” they usually interpret this to mean that God is going to give the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a grand revelation that will give us some wonderfully amazing knowledge about heaven that will then be added to the Doctrine and Covenants as new canonized scripture.
But is this the correct interpretation of this Article of Faith? To determine the answer, we first need to understand what revelation is.
Revelation is defined as God revealing information to man that wasn’t known before. The 76th, 131st, and 138th sections of the Doctrine and Covenants certainly meets this definition, and so did the revelation of where Moroni hid his father’s record in the hill Cumorah, and so did the knowledge about the priesthood as revealed by John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John.
However, D&C 4:4 is also a revelation from God which says, “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.” Is that something “great and important pertaining to the kingdom of God?” It is as far as the Lord is concerned.
Joseph received another revelation from God that was meant for Oliver Cowdery which said, “Behold, I say unto you, my son [Oliver], that because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., even so I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him” (D&C 9:1).
Joseph received yet another revelation that was for Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris that said, “Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared” (D&C 17:1).
Were these revelations great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God? To these three men they were. Did God reveal to them things they didn’t know about before? Most definitely!
What we learn is that revelation doesn’t have to be a spectacularly grand vision. It can be anything God reveals to men that they didn’t know about before. What we also see is that God doesn’t reveal things only for the church at large but he can reveal things to individuals about things they didn’t personally know about concerning the kingdom of heaven.
The question is, does God do that today? The answer is, most certainly!
One of the important duties of the apostles is to ensure that the correct doctrines of Christ are being taught throughout the church. For this reason, they not only discuss doctrinal issues among themselves, but they are always studying the scriptures and receiving personal inspiration. When they give talks in General Conference, the comments they make are based on things they’ve learned from the Spirit.
Many times during a conference talk, an apostle will say how they had fasted and prayed to know what to say. When they receive an answer to that prayer, by definition, they have received revelation. And when the words of their talk are published to the world, then the church as a whole is receiving many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God that an apostle of the Lord has received through revelation directly from God.
The apostle Paul wrote, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).
If we have never been to heaven, then the only way we can come to know anything about it is what God chooses to tell us, and he does that through his Spirit who teaches us “the deeper things of God.” The word “deep” as used here means to have a better or more profound understanding concerning the things of God, as opposed to having a superficial or surface only understanding.
Since the role of an apostle is to ensure that the correct doctrines of Christ are being taught throughout the church, then, of necessity, they must have a deep understanding of those doctrines, and the way that deeper understanding comes is through revelation from the Spirit. Thus, when they give us a more profound explanation in General or stake conferences about the doctrines of Christ, then we too are able to gain a better understanding about a principle of the gospel, and in doing so we come to learn something new that we didn’t know before that is important about the kingdom of God.
But apostles and prophets aren’t the only ones who receive revelations from God. So do general authorities and professors of religion at BYU. As they deeply study the scriptures, they too can have many great and important things revealed to them, even deep, hidden mysteries they didn’t know about before. And when they publish their knowledge in books, then we, as members of the church, have access to the same knowledge they’ve received through revelation.
But each one of us can also receive revelation, and that happens quite frequently.
We’ve all had the experience where, when reading a familiar verse of scripture, we suddenly see it in a new light that makes it take on a deeper and more significant meaning to us. But the only way that happens is when the Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to see something we never saw before, even though it’s been there before us all the time. This kind of an experience happens so frequently in the church that we take it for granted.
But someone will say that’s not the same as the church receiving great and important revelations pertaining to the kingdom of God, like what happened to Joseph Smith. But that’s not true.
First, we should notice what the 9th Article of Faith does not say. It doesn’t say that God is going to reveal important information to the president of the church. It doesn’t even say that God will reveal some new and grand knowledge to the church as a whole. All it says is that we believe that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
It should also be noticed that this Article of Faith doesn’t define what kind of things are “great and important,” and it doesn’t say to whom these things will be given. If God reveals something to an ordinary individual believer in Christ about something they didn’t already know pertaining to the kingdom of God, that would fulfill what the 9th Article of Faith actually says, as opposed to what some people interpret it to mean.
As stated earlier, many times the apostles will say something in General Conference that is based on knowledge they’ve received through revelation, but often they may express it in a short, casual way that many people won’t even notice or think nothing about it. Others may hear these short, revelatory statement and wonder what was meant by such a comment, while others will ponder on it and have their eyes open to the deeper truths contained in their brief words.
Sometimes the church does receive important revelation from our church leaders but people discount it as not being very important. We see this when the leadership of Christ’s church introduces a new program. For example, in 1970, President Joseph Fielding Smith announced that every Monday evening was to be set aside for each family to gather together where parents were to take the time to teach the gospel to their children and help build family unity. This was called the Family Home Evening program.
That divinely revealed program was of great importance for the strengthening of the family, which is the cornerstone of Christ’s church, yet. there were many members who didn’t considered this program to be something that needed to be followed, and therefore, dismissed it from their mind.
The same was true when President Russell M. Nelson revealed the concept of the home centered/ church supported program, where parents were to take a greater responsibility for teaching their family the principles of the gospel and help them develop greater faith in and conversion to Jesus Christ. As vitally important as this revelation was in pertaining to the kingdom of God, very few people saw this as a fulfillment of the 9th Article of Faith.
We can apply this same principle to books written by general authorities and religion professors. Although they can contain knowledge about things that have been revealed to them, many people won’t even read their books, while those who do won’t catch the full importance of what they’re reading, while others will be filled with a new and marvelous and deeper understanding of the gospel.
But this is no different than what happens when we read the scriptures. For example, the Doctrine and Covenants is a book that contains nothing but revelations we’ve already received from God, and although some revelations seem greater than other, yet every one of them contain important information pertaining to the kingdom of God. However, even though people everywhere have access to these revelations, it takes personal revelation to see the deeper truths that are hidden within them.
What we learn then is that revelation comes to people individually, and when the 9th Article of Faith says that we believe all that God has revealed and that he will yet reveal many other great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God, that doesn’t apply only to apostles and prophets, or for the church as a whole, but it applies just as much to each one of us individually. God isn’t only continuing to reveal many important things to the leaders of his church, but he’s more frequently revealing great truths to the individual members of his church that’s important for them to know pertaining to the kingdom of God.
Jesus explained this principle when he said, “But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life” (D&C 63:23). “And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom” (D&C 76:7).
Sometimes what God reveals to us isn’t a full understanding about a particular subject. Sometimes all he gives us is a brief glimpse of something that tantalizes our understanding without revealing much about it. It’s as though we’re in a house where all we can see is the four walls of a room, that has one window with a curtain over it, and every once in a while, God slightly parts the curtain just enough where we get an ever so fleeting hint of an unknown world just beyond our view.
We’ve heard people say that as they’ve gone looking for an answer to one question, they end up finding more questions than answers, and that’s because in their search for one answer they discover more things they never knew existed, which in turn leads them to ask even more questions. It’s like entering a room to learn about what’s in it, only to discover it contains another door. That, in turn, causes us to wonder, what’s on the other side of that door
The same thing happens when studying the scriptures. Sometimes as we’re striving to understand one subject a little more deeply, we get a small glimpse that there’s something far grander behind it, but we don’t know exactly what that grander thing is. When that happens, we are experiencing the fulfillment of receiving revelation about great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
What we seen then is that when we keep the commandments of God and live righteously, each person is entitled to having the mysteries of the kingdom, both great and small, revealed to them personally. That is the deeper meaning of the 9th Article of Faith.
Related articles can be found at Parting Thoughts