Part 37: CES Letter Testimony/Spiritual Witness Questions [Section A]
by Sarah Allen
Entries in this series (this link does not work properly in old Reddit or 3rd-party apps): https://www.reddit.com/r/lds/collection/11be9581-6e2e-4837-9ed4-30f5e37782b2
While the CES Letter has jumped around a bit in terms of topics, the progression of ideas has been interesting to see. First, it went after the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, and Joseph Smith. Then, it went after Brigham Young and prophets in general. Now, it’s going after the Spirit and personal revelation. It’s directly targeting a member of the Godhead. It’s trying to systematically knock down all of the basic pillars of a testimony so there’ll be nothing left to hold it up by the end. The entire purpose of the Letter is to attack that firm foundation your testimony should be built on so that it can’t continue to stand.
Many of us grew up, or have kids who are growing up, singing “The Wise Man and the Foolish Man” in Primary. It’s based on the parable given by the Savior in Matthew 7:24-27, which teaches us that the wise man builds his house (or testimony) upon a rock, while the foolish man builds his house/testimony upon sand, which will wash away in a storm. The CES Letter works very hard to try to flip the script, saying that only foolish people will base their testimonies on sandy concepts like “feelings” and “revelation” instead of rock-solid concepts like “science” and “common sense.”
But there is nothing foolish about listening to the Spirit, and putting your faith in the knowledge of man rather than the wisdom of God will never lead you in the right direction.
I have to admit, this topic is a little harder to discuss than some of the others have been simply because it’s a more nebulous concept. We aren’t talking about historical facts, figures, and documents this time around. We’re talking about the Spirit, something more amorphous but equally as real as historical documents are. As such, I hope you guys will forgive me if this section is maybe a little clumsy compared to some of the others. Our sources on this section are going to be far more scripture- and talk-oriented rather than scholarly research, too. I’m looking forward to that because they’re the best sources to lean on, anyway.
This section begins with another egregious example of the CES Letter’s dishonesty. This quote is very carefully edited to omit the sentences that say the opposite of what Jeremy claims it says. And they’re taken from the middle of the quote, in between the other sentences. This was not an accident. It was deliberately done to manipulate the reader. The Letter quotes it as saying this:
“We should not just go on our own feelings on everything. … Granted, our feelings can be wrong; of course they can be wrong. … We do indeed advocate the full use of the Holy Spirit to guide us to truth. How does the Holy Spirit work? How does He testify of truth and witness unto us? Through feelings. …” — FAIRMORMON BLOG, CAN WE TRUST OUR FEELINGS?
What the blog actually says is this, with the omitted parts in bold:
We should not just go on our own feelings on everything, even though that is exactly what people do. They do what they feel is right, bottom line. Some believe the Bible to be true because they feel the evidence is compelling. Others, however, believe the Bible to be fiction because they feel the evidence is compelling.
Granted, our feelings can be wrong; of course they can be wrong. But the LDS faith doesn’t solely advocate the use of our own subjective feelings. We do indeed advocate the full use of the Holy Spirit to guide us to truth. How does the Holy Spirit work? How does He testify of truth and witness unto us? Through feelings, but if you have ever felt a witness of the Holy Spirit, then you know it’s not just following your own subjective feelings. It is very different. And if you have never felt a witness of the Holy Spirit, then it’s impossible to fully explain.
The Spirit does not just testify to us through our feelings. It’s more than that. The Spirit also testifies in our minds. It also teaches us at the same time it gives us peace and joy. It’s an emotional and an intellectual witness.
Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3 teaches us this very principle:
2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
This is the Lord Himself speaking, and He’s telling us that revelation does not come just with strong emotions, but also in our minds. You can receive inspiration or direction through one means or the other. I personally receive most of my answers to my prayers and most of my inspiration through my mind, rather than my feelings. And a lot of people get that “gut feeling” telling them to do one thing or another. But the spiritual confirmations I’ve had have all been a combination of the two. They’ve come with a flood of knowledge and with the comfort and peace the Spirit brings. I have never received a confirmation of the Spirit that did not include both of these aspects.
This concept is found again and again throughout the scriptures. Hebrews 10:15-16, for example, gives a forceful description of the process:
15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
He doesn’t just put the feelings into our hearts, He writes them in our minds. Obviously, He’s not taking a pencil and literally carving it into our brains, but He does impress it into our minds so that we know it’s more than a simple feeling. The two concepts are so entwined, the Book of Mormon often describes “the thoughts of my heart.”
The next comment Jeremy listed in the Letter is this:
“Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative ‘HeartSell’Ò – strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response.” — LDS CHURCH OWNED BONNEVILLE COMMUNICATIONS
And again, that’s a distortion of the context. This an advertising company, Bonneville Communications, a division of Bonneville International, talking about eliciting a reaction from consumers:
We provide all pre-production, production, and post-production services, as well as state-of-the-art special effects and post-production facilities, closed captioning, electronic tagging, and video and audio duplication.
We are an advertising agency engaged in communications for quality life. Our people are driven by the belief that advertising can – and should – be a power, positive influence on the values and lives of people.
While they do discuss messages intending to reach people’s hearts and minds, they are not talking about revelation or spiritual confirmation. They’re talking about creating effective commercials and ad campaigns that make people want to choose one product over another. The Holy Ghost does not package His messages to be more enticing or to pique our interest. He testifies of eternal truth, and He brings us peace and comfort when we’re struggling. A good commercial can have an emotional impact, for sure. It can even cause epiphanies. But it cannot give you a witness of the truthfulness of the Gospel.
The final quote Jeremy gives us is this:
“Feelings Aren’t Facts.” — BARTON GOLDSMITH, PH.D, PSYCHOTHERAPIST
I agree, feelings aren’t facts. The reality of a spiritual witness from the Holy Ghost, however, is much more than a mere feeling, and you can trust its guiding influence. It is a fact that the Holy Ghost testifies of the truthfulness of the Gospel. The Lord Himself has assured us of that.
Look at the way He describes it in D&C 85:6:
Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest…
It’s a still small voice that whispers, but it also pierces, and it’s so powerful it makes the Savior’s bones quake when it testifies of the truth.
That is not just a feeling.
Before we move on to the next lines of the Letter, I’ve been feeling impressed all day to talk more about the Holy Ghost and the vital role He plays in our Father’s plan. He has several different responsibilities:
He “witnesses of the Father and the Son” (2 Nephi 31:18) and reveals and teaches “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). You can receive a sure testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ only by the power of the Holy Ghost. His communication to your spirit carries far more certainty than any communication you can receive through your natural senses.
As you strive to stay on the path that leads to eternal life, the Holy Ghost “will show unto you all things what [you] should do” (see 2 Nephi 32:1–5). He can guide you in your decisions and protect you from physical and spiritual danger.
Through Him, you can receive gifts of the Spirit for your benefit and for the benefit of those you love and serve (see D&C 46:9–11).
He is the Comforter (John 14:26). As the soothing voice of a loving parent can quiet a crying child, the whisperings of the Spirit can calm your fears, hush the nagging worries of your life, and comfort you when you grieve. The Holy Ghost can fill you “with hope and perfect love” and “teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom” (Moroni 8:26; D&C 36:2).
He is the Holy Spirit of Promise (see Ephesians 1:13; D&C 132:7, 18–19, 26). In this capacity, He confirms that the priesthood ordinances you have received and the covenants you have made are acceptable to God. This approval depends on your continued faithfulness.
The role that is central to the rest of this section of questions/concerns is the way that He testifies of the Father and the Son and teaches us the truth of all things, so that’s the one I’m going to focus on today.
The Savior told us during His earthly ministry why He was here:
To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
The way that He accomplishes this, the way that He separates those who are of the truth from those who are liars, is by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost does not testify of Himself, He testifies of the Savior, and He will guide us to all truth as He glorifies the Son of God. If we’re open to it, that truth will abound in us as we go throughout our lives. He doesn’t lie, and tells us plainly of things as they really are and as they really will be. The Spirit also speaks harshly against sin, and that’s an important concept to understand because that’s at the entire crux of Heavenly Father’s plan. That division, the test to see who will follow God and who will not, has been in place since before we ever even came to Earth.
The line between those who are on the Lord’s side and those who follow the adversary has been with us from the beginning. Even before the creation of this world, the children of God divided themselves into two groups with different loyalties. One-third of the host of heaven followed Lucifer, separating themselves from the presence of God and from the two-thirds who followed the Son of God (see D&C 29:36-39). This division has persisted throughout the history of mankind and will continue until the day of judgment when Jesus comes again in his glory.
We read in Matthew that all nations will gather before him, and he will “Separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. … Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:32-34, 41)
This choice is given all throughout the scriptures, telling us that we can choose between the things of God or the things of man, but we cannot have both. With so many competing voices in the world, it can be hard to cut through all of the noise and find the truth, but that’s why we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. He is there to guide us through the chaos to the everlasting peace that comes with choosing to obey God.
The Lord stands ready to give us untold blessings if we will only follow Him. He has promised us that He will leave the 99 and seek out the one, that He will feel after us and try to bring us back into the fold. He does that through the Holy Ghost.
But it’s on us to listen to that calling voice and to follow it back to Him. If we instead choose to follow after the words of men like Jeremy and others who would seek to destroy our testimonies, we’re choosing poorly. The things of the Spirit can only be deciphered spiritually, and the wisdom of man is foolishness. Choosing to follow men will only lead us into spiritual darkness.
Christ is the light that shines in that darkness, and through Him is the only path to salvation. You’re not going to find that light by turning your back on the Spirit and refusing to listen. You’re not going to find it by seeking after the world’s approval. You’re not going to find it by listening to those who have hardened their hearts to stone.
When I was researching this post over the past few days, I stumbled across a phrase repeated in the Book of Mormon nearly a dozen times. I’d never noticed the repetition before, but it’s something I want to highlight today. The first time we see it is in 1 Nephi 7:8, where Nephi is talking to Laman and Lemuel and despairing that they are so hard in their hearts and blind in their minds. That phrase, “hardness of heart and blindness of mind,” is repeated again and again throughout the entire Book of Mormon, but it’s not found in any other book of scripture. We see it in 1 Nephi 14:7, 1 Nephi 17:30, Jarom 1:3, Alma 13:4, Alma 48:3, 3 Nephi 2:1, 3 Nephi 7:16, Ether 4:15, and Ether 15:19.
This phrase is especially poignant because that’s precisely how the Holy Spirit speaks to us: through our hearts and minds. If we harden our hearts and blind our minds against the truth, we can’t feel the Spirit. We can’t lean on Him for guidance. We won’t know which direction to turn, and we’ll wander off the path, and we will become lost.
The warning in that last verse, Ether 15:19, is particularly blunt. Moroni is describing the destruction of the Jaredites, and he says:
But behold, the Spirit of the Lord had ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people; for they were given up unto the hardness of their hearts, and the blindness of their minds that they might be destroyed;
Not only did they lose the Spirit, but Satan had full power over them. They completely gave themselves up to that hardness of heart and blindness of mind, and refused to be swayed from their destructive course. They were so full of hate they couldn’t feel the Spirit reaching out desperately to stop them.
Most of us today are not living on the brink of genocide. While we might not be in danger of a physical destruction in today’s world, however, we are in danger of a spiritual one. If we turn away from the Spirit, the way that Jeremy is encouraging us to do in this portion of his Letter, we are opening ourselves up for a spiritual destruction on par with the physical destruction of the Jaredites and the Nephites. When we turn our backs on God, we turn our backs on light and truth.
The antidote, as Reddit user Stisa79 pointed out in a post on the Book of Mormon Notes blog, is found in Mosiah 2:9. We need to listen to the voice of the Spirit, and “open [our] ears that [we] may hear, and [our] hearts that [we] may understand, and [our] minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to [our] view.”
The Lord has assured us that there is no greater witness than that which comes from God. That witness is an unshakable, undeniable witness of the truth. It is the witness of the Holy Ghost as it whispers to us and pierces our hearts and causes our bones to quake.
The assurances of the Spirit are real. God Himself has promised us this. You cannot find a more trustworthy source than that.
In closing, I wanted to share a few final thoughts. D&C 14:8 states:
And it shall come to pass, that if you shall ask the Father in my name, in faith believing, you shall receive the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance, that you may stand as a witness of the things of which you shall both hear and see, and also that you may declare repentance unto this generation.
I don’t have the righteousness or the authority to call anyone to repentance, but this is me, standing as a witness of the things that I have heard and seen. I know that this is the true church of Christ on Earth. I know that because the Holy Spirit revealed it to me, and then He confirmed it many, many times over. I’m not going to go into the details of those revelations in a public forum, but they were undeniable. Those revelations happened, and they’ve given me knowledge of the truth. They were tangible experiences that I felt, and heard, and saw. They were not just feelings. They were physical experiences that I cannot deny ever happened.
I had an experience once where I witnessed the followers of Satan marshalling against the disciples of Christ, and their numbers were large, far larger than ours were that night. They outnumbered us by thousands. But I wasn’t afraid because the Spirit told me that no matter how many of them gathered against us, Christ would triumph in the end. Satan can rage and storm and put on an impressive show of his power, but he cannot win. He will lose, and in the end, he will have nothing. There is not one single thing he can do to stop it at this point. Maybe if he were to repent, but he’s beyond that now. There’s no hope left for him because Christ broke the bands of death and redeemed the world. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He will not lose this war. In the end, “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”
Christ is our shepherd, and we are His sheep. We hear His voice, and He knows us, and we follow Him. He has engraven us upon the palms of His hands, and we belong to Him. He is in our midst. If we continue to heed the voice of the Holy Spirit and build our testimonies on that firm, rocky foundation, we will not be lost:
Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.
And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.
And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.