The Tongue of Angels: The Necessity of the Holy Ghost in the Fulness of the Gospel

Scripture
All scripture, or divine instruction, has a genesis in the hand of some holy person (see 2 Nephi 29:11).

The introduction to the Book of Mormon gives the following interesting detail as to its contents: “The Book of Mormon…is a record of God’s dealings…and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel” (Book of Mormon, Introduction, para. 1, emphasis added). Though most Mormons are familiar with this statement, what they may not know is that the ‘fulness of the everlasting gospel’ is found several times within the Book of Mormon taking only a handful of verses to convey in each instance. The reason for this brevity is in the role of the Holy Ghost. This essay is designed to shed light on such passages by instructing the student of scripture on what the fulness of the gospel is and thence how to identify it in scripture.

The Fulness

What exactly is the Gospel and what does it mean to have it presented in its fulness? The word “gospel” means “good news,” from the Old English gōdspel (literally “good” and “news, story”), which is a gloss of the Latin evangelium, from the Greek εὐαγγέλιον euangelion (“good tidings”).1 The ‘good tidings’ of Christ is presented throughout scripture but seldom in full—except for in the Book of Mormon, where the entire message is repeated several times. In the most iconic chapter in the record, for instance, when Christ Himself appears to the Nephites to deliver his good news, He gives the fulness calling it his “doctrine”:

“Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine…. The Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God…. And unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 11:31-33,35).

That is the fulness of the Gospel. The steps therein, more specifically, delineated by the Savior are the requirements the Father has set for a man or woman to obtain mercy from within the bounds of justice through the atonement of His beloved son2 as also the basic qualifications for salvation and exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom.3 In short, the expression of these basic instructions for exaltation constitute the fulness of the Gospel.

Identifying The Fulness in Scripture

The question should naturally arise in the mind of the endowed student of scripture: how does the Book of Mormon contain the ‘basic instructions for exaltation’ if it never mentions any temple ordinances or covenants, which we know to be necessary for exaltation? The answer is that these necessary ordinances are included in the basic instructions if read carefully. This will be most clearly demonstrated by examining another instance in scripture of the fulness being taught:

At the end of Nephi’s account in the Book of Mormon, he writes a particular sermon that spells out in very plain language the path one must follow to obtain exaltation, or as he calls it, eternal life:

The voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me…. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son…by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost…then can ye speak with the tongue of angels…. Then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate…. And now…I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay…. If ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way…this is the doctrine of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:12-13,18-19,20-21, emphasis added).

There is so much detail here that it should be broken down and analyzed in smaller portions, beginning with the following:

(1) ‘The voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me

This is the portion of the Gospel exemplified in person by Jesus Christ in mortality that truly is ‘the gate,’ a gate meaning gate-way—a portal to more, and in this case, greater things. As Nephi prophesied concerning Christ’s pivotal role:

“According to the flesh [Christ] humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments. Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove. And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them” (2 Nephi 31:7-8).

This prophecy contains doctrinal elements that escape a casual reading of the Book of Mormon and which are yet validated elsewhere in said record. For example, it may be commonly assumed that baptism by water in itself somehow brings about the remission of sins that enables the reception of the Holy Ghost. Though it is true that baptism by immersion is for the remission of sins (see Articles of Faith 1:4), the passage above clearly tells the reason why ‘the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove,’ and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it is not the ordinance itself (Christ shows that ‘he would be obedient unto [the Father] in keeping his commandments’). The key to  unlocking the root cause of the Holy Ghost’s descent is the signpost word ‘wherefore,’ meaning “by reason of that” or “because of that”—‘that’ pointing to the preceding clause—which is again in this case, ‘[Christ] witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.

A “Wherefore” B

=

B “Because of” A

The doctrine presented is this: baptism brings a remission of sins because to perform the action of baptism is to fulfill the command of the Father, and keeping the commands of the Father brings a remission of sins and the remission of sins leads to the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Moroni confirms this teaching later in his writings:

“Baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; and the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 8:26, emphasis added; see also footnote 3).

Moroni too clarifies in the above passage that the Holy Ghost comes not as a result of the baptismal ordinance—or, it may be assumed, as a result solely of the requisite laying on of hands—but from righteous living, specifically ‘meekness and lowliness of heart.’4

The importance of this introductory act in the life of Jesus Christ, which importance is somewhat glossed over by most students of Christ’s ministry as a formal side note—a mere box to be checked in the list of things Christ should do for the sake of setting an example—is actually paramount in Nephi’s view as one of the defining performances of the Savior’s exemplary life. What seems to capture Nephi’s attention is that, despite being holy, even the Savior had to obey the command of the Father—the command to be baptized—before the Holy Ghost descended upon Him, the very Son of the Living God. In full view of the relationship Christ held naturally with the Father, the act of his receiving the Holy Ghost truly is a profound thing to contemplate! The writer of Acts too notes how that the Holy Ghost was not automatically Christ’s to have: “This Jesus hath God raised up…having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:32-33).

“And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy!… But notwithstanding he being holy,…after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him” (2 Nephi 31:5,7-8, emphasis added).

So Christ shows by example, as Nephi comments, that the way to eternal life cannot bypass baptism for the very reason that the Father will not give the Holy Ghost to anyone before they complete this holy command—even His Only Begotten Son. It really is the gate!

Returning to Nephi’s final sermon on the life of Christ, the following phrase should be examined more closely, especially in light of the renewed emphasis on the significance of receiving the Holy Ghost:

(2) ‘Then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost…then can ye speak with the tongue of angels’

The tongue of angels is the key, among the instructions that compose the fulness of the Gospel, to finding out the ordinances one must complete beyond the gateway of baptism to obtain eternal life. In short, the tongue of angels is simply personal revelation, though perhaps in a far more literal sense than that to which one may be accustomed. The Articles of Faith establish the belief “in the gift of…revelation” (verse 7). This is sometimes interpreted as and limited to “warm feelings,” confirmation of some truths, and sometimes comfort. Though these are examples of real revelation, Nephi’s reference to the “tongue of angels” is a form of revelation far more explicit and personal—it is to have the words of Christ to one personally by revelation.

Nephi explains himself as to what this step is and why it is so crucial toward exaltation and eternal life. He begins by addressing the question put to him by his brothers concerning what more should be done after entering the gateway of baptism:

“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, I suppose that ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way. But, behold, why do ye ponder these things in your hearts? Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels?

“And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do…. For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

“Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do” (2 Nephi 32:1-3,5-6, emphasis added).

Nephi’s language gets a little dense in the above verses, so what follows is a breakdown of the logic employed by his arguments:

If: You receive the Holy Ghost

Then: You can speak in the same manner as Angels

~

Q: What manner is that? A: They speak with Christ’s words.

Q: What will the words of Christ tell me? A: All that you must do.

Q: Where will this lead me? A: To the presence of Christ.

2 Nephi 32:1-6

Personal revelation, therefore, through the power of the companionship of the Holy  Ghost can take the form of the “tongue of angels,” which is revelation to an individual in Christ’s voice. In fact, when revelation has come to man in the tongue of a man, it has almost always been that of Jesus Christ,5 excepting the occasional words of the Father. This principle can be seen in play throughout the scriptures:

Instances when revelation has come in the voice of Christ (the tongue of angels):
Most of the Doctrine and Covenants: Two examples: “Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high;” “I am he who led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:1; 136:22, given through the mouths of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, respectively).
John the Revelator confuses an angel who speaks as the Lord with the Lord himself: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him,… and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John…. And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God…. And he saith unto me:… I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (Revelation 1:1; 19:9-10,13).
The Lord commands Moses to obey an angel: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries” (Exodus 23:20-22, emphasis added).6
Revelation to Apostle Orson Hyde in Nauvoo 1846: “In my meditations this morning, the spirit of the Lord came upon me and I was moved to write; and being grieved in my spirit on account of the false pretenses by evil designing persons to gain power and lead away the flock of God. It whispered to me and said: `Evil men ambitious of power, must needs rise among you, and they shall be led by their own self will and not by me; yet they are instruments in my hands and are permitted to try my people, and to collect from among them those who are not the elect, and such as are unworthy of eternal life. Grieve not after them, neither mourn nor be alarmed. My people know my voice and also the voice of my spirit, and a stranger they will not follow. Therefore such as follow strangers are not my people’ (Orson Hyde quoted in “March 15. [1846].” Journal of Isaac Haight, 1813-1886, Harold B Lee Special Collections Library).
Heber C. Kimball has his calling and election made sure: “The following words came to mind, and the Spirit said unto me, ‘write,’ which I did by taking a piece of paper and writing on my knee as follows: …
“Verily I say unto my servant Heber, thou art my son, in whom I am well pleased; for thou art careful to hearken to my words, and not transgress my law, nor rebel against my servant Joseph Smith, for thou hast a respect to the words of mine anointed, even from the least to the greatest of them; therefore thy name is written in heaven, no more to be blotted out for ever” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Bookcraft, 1975, p. 241).

This phenomena is known as “divine investiture of authority”and it is when an angelic being is allowed to speak as if he were Christ, delivering a message in the very voice of Christ (referring to himself as Christ, though he is not).7 It is also the means by which Christ speaks as the Father and calls himself the Father (see for example D&C 29:1,42,46). This borrowing of identity is not a mark of theft in the Heavenly realm but actually one of authority. As noted above, nearly the whole of the Doctrine and Covenants is the words of Christ, yet they were all dictated by the mouth of a mortal man, revealing God’s will to His disciples. In these cases, it was the gift of the Holy Ghost that gave him “utterance” (D&C 14:8; see Acts 1:2).

Writing Scripture

Nephi’s important instruction is that this same mode of revelation—to have the words of Christ as instruction—is available to those who have fully entered the gateway of baptisms by water and fire (see 2 Nephi 31:13). It is this access to direction and revelation that enables the disciple of Christ to find out and receive greater truth and light from true messengers from the Father, whose words will be the words of Christ. Nephi therefore admonishes: “Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).8

Historically and scripturally, it is abundantly clear that the ordinances beyond baptism are revealed to man from Heaven to duly authorized administrators. In this last dispensation, it was to Joseph Smith that the Lord revealed the ordinances of His holy house through the medium of revelation:

“And verily I say unto you, let this house[, the Nauvoo Temple,] be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people…. And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof” (Doctrine and Covenants 120:40,42).

Without the gift of the Holy Ghost, or without Joseph Smith’s living worthy the companionship of and communion with the Holy Ghost, doubtless he could not have obtained the revelation on post-gateway ordinances. For those who live in a time and place wherein the ordinances are available to man, as with the present age, obedience to the Holy Ghost leads to eventual partaking of those ordinances; for those that did not, as with Joseph Smith initially or even the Nephites upon arriving in the new world, the words of Christ are always the same: “Build a house unto my name:”

    • “And Moses…called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And…every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation” (Exodus 33:7);
    • “And Solomon determined to build an house for the name of the Lord, and an house for his kingdom” (2 Chronicles 2:1);
    • “And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon” (2 Nephi 5:16).

The examples are numerous, but the pattern and principle is the same: the fulness of the Gospel as contained in the scriptures includes the instructions for exaltation through temple ordinances because God will reveal the pattern for those ordinances through the Holy Ghost or direct a person to those ordinances if they are found upon the earth.9

The end of following these personalized instructions (including temple ordinances for oneself), which will lead a disciple through a strait and narrow way of covenant and sacrifice, is to have one’s calling and election made sure:

(3) ‘If ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.’

This is the promise of the Father to the one who diligently thirsts for, hungers after, and feasts upon the words of Christ (2 Nephi 31:20). The revelation of one’s exaltation in the Celestial world being promised by the Father is actually received, according to scripture, most often through the power of the Holy Ghost, or the tongue of Angels, as opposed to a personal visit from a member of the Godhead.10 As Joseph Smith taught:

“The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood. It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:5-6, emphasis added).

Joseph Smith taught that after a person has made their calling and election sure, it is their privilege to receive the Second Comforter, which is the person of Christ Himself. Nephi teaches this same doctrine when he continues:

“Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do” (2 Nephi 32:6).11

Conclusion

The pattern is clear. The “fulness of the Gospel” is presented in scripture by the presence of these three key steps: (1) Enter the gate, (2) Receive the Holy Ghost, (3) Endure to the end. In other words, repent and be baptized, obey the words of Christ, and have one’s calling and election made sure; again in other words: enter the covenant of baptism, enter into greater covenants by revelation, and receive the personal covenant of exaltation. Knowing this, the student of scripture will be enabled to identify it.

This relatively compact message can be found repeated several times in the scriptures, particularly in the Book of Mormon. Following are only a few examples:

Scripture (1) Enter the Gate (2) Receive the Holy Ghost (3) Endure to the End
2 Nephi 31:17-20 “The gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water…” “…Then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And…are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life…” “…If ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
3 Nephi 27:20 “Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name…” “…That ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost…” “…That ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.”
3 Nephi 11:38 “Ye must repent, and be baptized in my name…” “…And become as a little child…” “…or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.”
Moses 8:24 “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, even as our fathers…” “…And ye shall receive the Holy Ghost…” “…That ye may have all things made manifest…”
D&C 39:23 “As many as ye shall baptize with water…” “…Ye shall lay your hands, and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost…” “…And shall be looking forth for the signs of my coming, and shall know me.”

  


Footnotes:

  1. For an interesting study on alternative meanings of Bible verses, try substituting “the gospel” for every instance of “glad/good tidings,” and vice versa. For example: “[The shepherds] were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you the Gospel of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:9-11); “And it came to pass afterward, that [Christ] went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the Gospel of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him” (Luke 8:1); “And again I speak unto you 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 good news of Christ” (Mormon 9:7-8).
  2. See Alma 42:23-25.

  3. See D&C 76:51-53, which also contains the Gospel in its fulness: “[The Celestial] are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—that by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; and who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.”

  4. Apostle David A. Bednar explained: “The simplicity of this ordinance may cause us to overlook its significance. These four words—‘Receive the Holy Ghost’—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed ‘receive the Holy Ghost’ and its attendant spiritual gifts” (David A. Bednar, “Receive the Holy Ghost”, Conference Report, October 2010, Sunday Afternoon Session).

  5. It appears as though angels are either permitted to disclose their true identity or not; in the cases when they are not allowed to, it may be that the default persona invoked is that of Jesus Christ, their Lord and master. There are instances in the scriptures, however, where an angel is allowed to identify himself uniquely, which must be for a wise purpose in God. See for instance the annunciation to Mary, the mother of Christ, which was performed by Gabriel (see Luke 1:26-27); also the angel that called Alma the Younger to repentance identified himself not by name but by previous assignment when he reappeared to Alma on the road from Ammonihah (Alma 8:14-15).

  6. This passage gives greater clarity to the sacramental covenant to be “willing to take upon them the name of [the] Son,” in that when God puts the name of His Son upon a person they can speak the words of the Son, or receive them as personal revelation through the tongue of angels. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks once taught: “What does it mean that the Aaronic Priesthood holds ‘the key of the ministering of angels’…? The meaning is found in the ordinance of baptism and in the sacrament.… When we keep the covenants made in these ordinances, we are promised that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. The ministering of angels is one of the manifestations of that Spirit” (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament”, Conference Report, October 1998).

  7. Joseph Smith referred to his guardian angel on occasion, a belief which persisted quietly in Mormonism until the early 20th century when it appears to have lost fashion in public discourse (see Joseph Smith, “June 13, 1844.” Documentary History of the Church 6:461-462). Joseph F. Smith taught that our promptings from the Holy Ghost are most likely from dearly departed persons working under God’s direction rather than the person of the Holy Ghost himself (see Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970, pp. 435–36). Combining these two thoughts, it is easy to conclude that a person’s personal revelations in the voice of Christ are actually dictated by their guardian angel.

  8. That the words of Christ come by the Holy Ghost to a disciple’s heart and mind is attested in many places in scripture. Phrases such as the following are worth noting: “While I was…struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind”; and “The voice of the Lord came unto him, that he should return again, and prophesy unto the people whatsoever things should come into his heart” (Enos 1:10; Helaman 13:3 emphasis added).

  9. Joseph Smith taught that angels are only necessary to deliver keys to the earth if no one is found upon the earth who possess them: “No true angel from God will ever come to ordain any man, because they have once been sent to establish the priesthood by ordaining me thereunto;…the priesthood being once established on earth, with power to ordain others, no heavenly messenger will ever come to interfere with that power by ordaining any more.… You may therefore know, from this time forward, that if any man comes to you professing to be ordained by an angel, he is either a liar or has been imposed upon in consequence of transgression by an angel of the devil, for this priesthood shall never be taken away from this church” (Millennial Star, 20 Nov. 1846, p. 139).

  10. See the blog post essay, Not My Will But Thine: The Calling and Election, for numerous examples.

  11. These principles are clearly spelled out in the 130th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “Jesus…said…, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23); “The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false” (D&C 130:3).

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