Monday, August 8, 2016

Wolves in “Sheets” Clothing

...for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God. 
—Joseph Smith
History of the Church 4:573

Have you ever heard of “Jerusalem Syndrome?”

It’s a fascinating mental illness in which a visit to the city of Jerusalem triggers an episode of intense religious psychosis. In practical terms, it means an otherwise normal tourist, while visiting Jerusalem, becomes convinced he is called of God, and is perhaps the reincarnation of some famous Bible figure, starts wearing hotel bedsheets as a robe, makes a pilgrimage to the nearest holy site, and loudly preaches a disjointed and ill-prepared sermon to all who will listen. This behavior generally continues until the sufferer is apprehended and given help.

Yes, this is real. It afflicts around 100 tourists per year, with around 40 per year hospitalized for treatment.

Fortunately, the illness follows a predictable course, allowing tour guides and hotel personnel to spot it in its earlier stages and lend assistance. And usually the tourist’s grip on reality is restored once he has left Jerusalem and returned to familiar surroundings.

Most sufferers have no prior diagnosis of mental illness, and may appear very normal in other respects. 

So what makes an otherwise non-religious accountant from Indianapolis suddenly believe he is the reincarnation of John the Baptist and he must preach to save mankind? Is it demon possession? Is it sheer awe at witnessing the actual sites where history was made? Is it the realization that Bible figures were also normal people, living normal lives? 

And why does the illness so often follow the same pattern, to the point that tour operators are taught exactly how to recognize its onset? 

These are open questions. Nobody knows what causes Jerusalem Syndrome—other than a visit to Jerusalem. But for those who suffer from it, the delusion is very real and compelling.

“Mighty and Strong” Syndrome

Joseph Smith wrote a letter to William W. Phelps in November 1832, regarding those who migrated to Missouri but didn’t consecrate their property to the church upon arrival, and consequently didn’t receive an “inheritance” of property from the church for their needs.

Forty-four years later, the LDS church canonized parts of the letter as Doctrine and Covenants Section 85. What is now verse 7 has caused no end of problems:
And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand, clothed with light for a covering, whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words; while his bowels shall be a fountain of truth, to set in order the house of God, and to arrange by lot the inheritances of the saints whose names are found, and the names of their fathers, and of their children, enrolled in the book of the law of God; (D&C 85:7)
Beginning even before the canonization of this letter, and continuing through today, dozens have arisen and claimed to be the prophesied “one mighty and strong,” destined to perform some version of “setting in order the house of God” and “arranging the inheritances of the saints.” It’s such a frequent claim that the claimants even get their own Wikipedia page. Some have gathered followers, power, money, women, and honor with their claims, often resulting in new break-offs from the various branches of Mormonism. Some have instigated failed attempts to build Zion. Others have found less success and acceptance. Nevertheless, popular or not, all these pretenders have ultimately proven imposters and deceivers. 

My purpose here is not to analyze the “one mighty and strong” prophecy, and what it may or may not mean. Nor is my purpose to explore the other purported prophecies variously interpreted as referring to a Davidic Servant, a Lamanite Prophet, a Second Joseph, a Rod, Root or Branch of Jesse, a Mighty Seer, or even a reincarnation of Joseph Smith and his associates. In the end, these prophecies mean very little, and are worse than meaningless when misused. 

Rather, my purpose is to look at patterns of deception and recognition. Just as Jerusalem tour operators have learned to recognize the pattern that leads to tourists losing their minds and putting on the bedsheets, there  are patterns worth recognizing among pretenders and deceivers in the various Mormon restoration movements. Here are a few points to consider:

False Prophets Will Come

False prophets always arise in opposition to true ones. It’s an eternal law that light and darkness must be kept in balance, and that there must needs be an opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11). Therefore, when God calls people to do his work, there will most surely arise other people with an alternative agenda. Often the resemblance between the two will be very convincing. 

Our Lord warned us of this situation and taught us to know them by their fruits. (3 Nephi 14:15-20) What, then are the “fruits” to look for? This is vital.
  • Are fruits the feelings you get about a message or a messenger?
  • Are fruits the message brought forth by the messenger? 
  • Are fruits the effects of the message in the lives of those who accept it? (Pride, arrogance, anger, humility, repentance, faith, etc.)
  • Are fruits redeemed souls, suitable to be laid up against the season? (See Jacob 5)
It is left to us to determine what sort of fruit most interests the Lord, and whether those fruits are present.

Prophecy Appropriated

The purpose of prophecy is NOT to give us details about the future. Prophecy is best understood in retrospect, after it is fulfilled, as proof that God knew the end from the beginning. 

Attempts to predict future fulfillment always fall short. Fact is, God doesn’t want us to know a great deal of detail about how he intends to perform his mighty work, so we cannot interfere with it. If mankind knew exactly where, what, when and who, we would most certainly get in God’s way, and even prevent his work from proceeding. Therefore, God leaves things vague and open ended, only coming into sharp focus when viewed in retrospect.

Anyone who claims they will be the one to fulfill some prophecy in the future is almost automatically a deceiver. Similarly, anyone who claims a title (one mighty and strong, etc.) is most certainly “wearing the sheets.” And one who claims to be a famous or important person from history, reincarnated, certainly didn't get that information from God.

If someone arises and accomplishes the Lord’s work, then when the work has been completed, it will be obvious who fulfilled the prophecy, and therefore who merits the title. But until something is accomplished, claiming a title, or allowing others to apply a title to you, is nothing but arrogance and a sure sign of deception. Even Jesus Christ refused titles and honor until he had completed the atonement (Luke 18:19, Luke 4:41, Luke 22:70, Matthew 27:11, and many others.) Satan, on the other hand, sought for both title and honor before accomplishing anything. (Moses 4:1)

The Challenge of Discernment

The challenge to discern God’s voice from all others is the universal challenge of mankind. And we almost universally fail. Discernment is VERY difficult at first and requires you to be filled with light (Moses 1:15), which is obtained by sacrifice in obedience to God. If you assume you are “good” at discernment, this is a sure sign you are not. If you are not well familiar with scripture, you will be easily misled by an appealing, quasi-scriptural message. Our Lord withstood Satan by using scripture—EVERY TIME. This was how He detected the lies, even when Satan also used scripture to make his arguments.

Similarly, if you’re not familiar with history, you’re likely to repeat it. The failings at Kirtland, Independence, Far West, Nauvoo and Salt Lake ought to inform us and prevent us from making the same mistakes. Sadly, though, few are familiar enough to recognize what went wrong, and therefore resolutely march forward into the same foolish errors, even while proclaiming they cannot possibly be misled.

Ignorance of both scripture and history, combined with impatience, form the toxic condition of “zeal without knowledge.”(Romans 10:2). Those who find themselves in such a condition are susceptible to Lucifer’s suggestion, and may soon be wearing the sheets. Our greatest sin is our ignorance.

Knowing His Voice

Suppose you receive a phone call from your best friend, inviting you to a get-together. But oddly, you don’t recognize the voice. It just doesn’t sound like your best friend, whose voice you know well. Are you likely to accept the proffered invitation?

It seems to me that familiarity with the Lord’s voice is one of the keys to avoiding deception. If you know His voice cold, you can distinguish it from all other voices. In Lehi’s dream, the rod of iron represented the word of God. Does that only mean God’s written word? Or does it also mean His words to you, personally? Lacking that rod of iron, how likely is it you will be lost in the mist of darkness? 

That’s Why it’s Called Temptation

The Tempter provides something that is tempting, which I believe means easy, appealing, gratifying, or flattering. This complicates discernment because we WANT to believe the appealing message. Pride and flattery are not the tools of God, whose true teachings are often difficult to bear and require us to repent.

The Devil and his servants DO in fact appear as angels of light (D&C 128:20,  D&C 129:8, 2 Nephi 9:9, Alma 30:53.) They can and do impersonate holy beings and personalities, and even impersonate the Lord (Moses 1:19). They provide false visions and false revelations (D&C 28:11). They mimic the truth closely enough to deceive. You are unlikely to encounter true messengers without also encountering false ones. If you cannot discern the difference, you will be deceived, while simultaneously convinced you are following a true path.

In the LDS temple endowment, when true messengers arrive to teach Adam, his first act was to test them. “How shall I know you are true messengers?” In response, adequate proof was provided. There’s a lesson here for us.

Even Joseph Smith, who had already been in the presence of the Father and Son, required the assistance of Michael to detect the Devil when he appeared as an angel of light on the banks of the Susquehanna River (D&C 128:20). If you look carefully at this verse, you’ll see the other historical events noted to take place on the banks of the Susquehanna River involved, respectively, John the Baptist restoring Aaronic priesthood, and Peter, James and John, declaring their keys and dispensation. In other words, it’s highly likely Satan’s appearance on the banks of the Susquehanna River was in opposition to true messengers, and so convincing that Joseph required the help of an Archangel to discern the difference. This ought to cause you serious reflection. Could you tell the difference?

No Shortcuts

There are no shortcuts to receiving redemption and the personal ministry of the Lord. Eternal law operates the same way for everyone, every time. 

The boy Jesus was prepared for his mission by the time he was 12, and yet he had to patiently wait 18 more years before his time would come. The things of God can be sought but not forced. The Lord decides if, when, and how you will enter his presence. (D&C 88:68) Few are willing to walk the required path of patience and repentance, and therefore, shortcuts and offers of immediate gratification are enticing, even compelling. But what Christ offers cannot be obtained quickly or cheaply.

A beast waits in the pass to destroy those who will not wait upon the Lord.

If you want to move forward, the fastest way I know of to take the next step on your path is to simply ask the Lord what you lack, then do what He says.

An Individual Journey

There are a variety of groups, clubs and gatherings that teach, perform group ordinances, seek group spiritual manifestations, and claim to offer secret higher knowledge that will open the heavens. Some seek to obtain the Lord’s presence. Others have different goals in mind.

Of course fellowship is required to practice Christ’s gospel. We should gather to strengthen one another, bear one another’s burdens, teach, testify and serve one another. But as helpful as group fellowship and worship may be, the path to Christ’s presence is one we each walk alone. No group, club, or secret society has the higher knowledge you need to return to the Lord’s presence. It’s between you and the Lord, and no other person. The work is done in the secret recesses of your heart, not in the secret meeting of a group.

Piercing the Veil

Some speak of the goal of “piercing the veil” and offer checklists, plans, or programs designed to do just that. Some promote the use of mind-altering substances, sweat lodges, vision quests, meditation, visualization, counseling, energy work, lengthy fasts, “higher ordinances”or other tools on this quest. These may be effective. You may well pierce the veil through these methods, and encounter spirit beings or experiences in the realm beyond. But are they reliable sources of truth? Is “piercing the veil” and accessing the world of disembodied spirits the correct goal? (Moses 4:4 D&C 50:2-3 D&C 52:14) Or is the focus better placed on obtaining and obeying the Lord’s will so you can gain the power of Godliness and bear His presence when He chooses to manifest Himself to you? (D&C 88:68)

The Second Comforter is a mercy to be received, not a goal to be achieved. 

Judge Not?

There’s one other point to make, and it is a bit delicate. You see, somewhere along the way you might have picked up the idea that you shouldn’t judge; that you should just be accepting and refrain at all costs from calling anyone or anything evil. 

I agree, you cannot judge the heart of another. That is for the Lord. 

But you CAN and MUST judge the ideas, teachings and invitations of those who claim to speak for the Lord—if you intend to avoid deception, that is. This is paramount. (Moroni 7:14-18)

Ultimately, you must judge the spirit that animates anyone you trust to be your teacher. Are they animated by the Spirit of the Lord, or by some other spirit? How will you tell? This implies you must be familiar enough with the Lord’s Spirit to discern the answer. By the way, I'll add here that your emotions are NOT a valid indicator of truth or the presence of the Lord's spirit

Deceivers of all Types

I started this post by discussing Jerusalem Syndrome. It is a mental illness, and no matter how sincere or convinced the sufferer is, the fact is, they are mentally ill and deluded. If you encounter such a person, you MUST judge the matter rightly. You must still love that person, of course, do what you can to help them, and hope for their best good. But if you follow them or accept their ideas, you will be deceived.

Not all deceivers are mentally ill, of course. Some are deceived in other ways. Satan is the great deceiver and has a variety of tools at his disposal. It’s entirely possible, even likely, that one who seeks to deceive you is NOT lying; he may really have experienced what he claims, including a call to do a great work. But that experience may not have come from God. (Alma 30:53)

And, unfortunately, there are even those who know full well they are deceivers, but seek followers to gain money, acclaim, sex, or other desires. 

In the end, some common sense goes a long way, as do time, study and careful reflection.

The Lord’s great work is underway, and Satan will seek to undermine it at every turn. Fill yourself with enough light that, like Moses, you can tell the difference between a true messenger and a false one. Is that a white robe or a hotel bed sheet? You must judge the matter correctly.

I'll close with an editorial by Joseph Smith on this topic. I realize it is rather long, but I believe your time investment will be worthwhile. 

“Try the Spirits”—The Prophet's Editorial in the Times and Seasons.

Recent occurrences that have transpired amongst us render it an imperative duty devolving upon me to say something in relation to the spirits by which men are actuated.

It is evident from the Apostles' writings, that many false spirits existed in their day, and had "gone forth into the world," and that it needed intelligence which God alone could impart to detect false spirits, and to prove what spirits were of God. The world in general have been grossly ignorant in regard to this one thing, and why should they be otherwise—"for no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God.”

The Egyptians were not able to discover the difference between the miracles of Moses and those of the magicians until they came to be tested together; and if Moses had not appeared in their midst, they would unquestionably have thought that the miracles of the magicians were performed through the mighty power of God, for they were great miracles that were performed by them—a supernatural agency was developed, and great power manifested.

The witch of Endor is a no less singular personage; clothed with a powerful agency she raised the Prophet Samuel from his grave, and he appeared before the astonished king, and revealed unto him his future destiny. Who is to tell whether this woman is of God, and a righteous woman—or whether the power she possessed was of the devil, and she a witch as represented by the Bible? It is easy for us to say now, but if we had lived in her day, which of us could have unravelled the mystery?

It would have been equally as difficult for us to tell by what spirit the Apostles prophesied, or by what power the Apostles spoke and worked miracles. Who could have told whether the power of Simon, the sorcerer, was of God or of the devil?

There always did, in every age, seem to be a lack of intelligence pertaining to this subject. Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age, and almost amongst all people, If we go among the pagans, they have their spirits; the Mohammedans, the Jews, the Christians, the Indians—all have their spirits, all have a supernatural agency, and all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery? "Try the spirits," says John, but who is to do it? The learned, the eloquent, the philosopher, the sage, the divine—all are ignorant. The heathens will boast of their gods, and of the great things that have been unfolded by their oracles. The Mussulman will boast of his Koran, and of the divine communications that his progenitors have received. The Jews have had numerous instances, both ancient and modern, among them of men who have professed to be inspired, and sent to bring about great events, and the Christian world has not been slow in making up the number.

"Try the spirits," but what by? Are we to try them by the creeds of men? What preposterous folly—what sheer ignorance—what madness! Try the motions and actions of an eternal being (for I contend that all spirits are such) by a thing that was conceived in ignorance, and brought forth in folly—a cobweb of yesterday! Angels would hide their faces, and devils would be ashamed and insulted, and would say, "Paul we know, and Jesus we know, but who are ye?" Let each man of society make a creed and try evil spirits by it, and the devil would shake his sides; it is all that he would ask—all that he would desire. Yet many of them do this, and hence "many spirits are abroad in the world.”

One great evil is, that men are ignorant of the nature of spirits; their power, laws, government, intelligence, &c., and imagine that when there is anything like power, revelation, or vision manifested, that it must be of God. Hence the Methodists, Presbyterians, and others frequently possess a spirit that will cause them to lie down, and during its operation, animation is frequently entirely suspended; they consider it to be the power of God, and a glorious manifestation from God—a manifestation of what? Is there any intelligence communicated? Are the curtains of heaven withdrawn, or the purposes of God developed? Have they seen and conversed with an angel—or have the glories of futurity burst upon their view? No! but their body has been inanimate, the operation of their spirit suspended, and all the intelligence that can be obtained from them when they arise, is a shout of "glory," or "hallelujah," or some incoherent expression; but they have had "the power.”

The Shaker will whirl around on his heel, impelled by a supernatural agency or spirit, and think that he is governed by the Spirit of God; and the Jumper will jump and enter into all kinds of extravagances. A Primitive Methodist will shout under the influence of that spirit, until he will rend the heavens with his cries; while the Quakers (or Friends) moved as they think, by the Spirit of God, will sit still and say nothing. Is God the author of all this? If not of all of it, which does He recognize? Surely, such a heterogeneous mass of confusion never can enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Every one of these professes to be competent to try his neighbor's spirit, but no one can try his own, and what is the reason? Because they have not a key to unlock, no rule wherewith to measure, and no criterion whereby they can test it. Could any one tell the length, breadth or height of a building without a rule? test the quality of metals without a criterion, or point out the movements of the planetary systems, without a knowledge of astronomy? Certainly not; and if such ignorance as this is manifested about a spirit of this kind, who can describe an angel of light? If Satan should appear as one in glory, who can tell his color, his signs, his appearance, his glory?—or what is the manner of his manifestation? Who can detect the spirit of the French prophets with their revelations and their visions, and power of manifestations? Or who can point out the spirit of the Irvingites, with their apostles and prophets, and visions and tongues, and interpretations, &c., &c. Or who can drag into daylight and develop the hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-day Saints? We answer that no man can do this without the Priesthood, and having a knowledge of the laws by which spirits are governed; for as "no man knows the things of God, but by the Spirit of God," so no man knows the spirit of the devil, and his power and influence, but by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of his devices; without knowing the angelic form, the sanctified look and gesture, and the zeal that is frequently manifested by him for the glory of God, together with the prophetic spirit, the gracious influence, the godly appearance, and the holy garb, which are so characteristic of his proceedings and his mysterious windings.

A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors; for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God. Thousands have felt the influence of its terrible power and baneful effects. Long pilgrimages have been undertaken, penances endured, and pain, misery and ruin have followed in their train; nations have been convulsed, kingdoms overthrown, provinces laid waste, and blood, carnage and desolation are habiliments in which it has been clothed.

The Turks, the Hindoos, the Jews, the Christians, the Indian; in fact all nations have been deceived, imposed upon and injured through the mischievous effects of false spirits.

As we have noticed before, the great difficulty lies in the ignorance of the nature of spirits, of the laws by which they are governed, and the signs by which they may be known; if it requires the Spirit of God to know the things of God; and the spirit of the devil can only be unmasked through that medium, then it follows as a natural consequence that unless some person or persons have a communication, or revelation from God, unfolding to them the operation of the spirit, they must eternally remain ignorant of these principles; for I contend that if one man cannot understand these things but by the Spirit of God, ten thousand men cannot; it is alike out of the reach of the wisdom of the learned, the tongue of the eloquent, the power of the mighty. And we shall at last have to come to this conclusion, whatever we may think of revelation, that without it we can neither know nor understand anything of God, or the devil; and however unwilling the world may be to acknowledge this principle, it is evident from the multifarious creeds and notions concerning this matter that they understand nothing of this principle, and it is equally as plain that without a divine communication they must remain in ignorance. The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves "in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth," and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men.

A man must have the discerning of spirits, as we before stated, to understand these things, and how is he to obtain this gift if there are no gifts of the Spirit? And how can these gifts be obtained without revelation? "Christ ascended into heaven, and gave gifts to men; and He gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and some Evangelists, and some Pastors and Teachers. And how were Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists chosen? By prophecy (revelation) and by laying on of hands:—by a divine communication, and a divinely appointed ordinance—through the medium of the Priesthood, organized according to the order of God, by divine appointment. The Apostles in ancient times held the keys of this Priesthood—of the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and consequently were enabled to unlock and unravel all things pertaining to the government of the Church, the welfare of society, the future destiny of men, and the agency, power and influence of spirits; for they could control them at pleasure, bid them depart in the name of Jesus, and detect their mischievous and mysterious operations when trying to palm themselves upon the Church in a religious garb, and militate against the interest of the Church and spread of truth. We read that they "cast out devils in the name of Jesus," and when a woman possessing the spirit of divination, cried before Paul and Silas, "these are the servants of the Most High God that show unto us the way of salvation," they detected the spirit. And although she spake favorably of them, Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her, and saved themselves from the opprobrium that might have been heaped upon their heads, through an alliance with her, in the development of her wicked principles, which they certainly would have been charged with, if they had not rebuked the evil spirit.

A power similar to this existed through the medium of the Priesthood in different ages. Moses could detect the magician's power, and show that he [himself] was God's servant—he knew when he was upon the mountain (through revelation) that Israel was engaged in idolatry; he could develop the sin of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, detect witches and wizards in their proceedings, and point out the true prophets of the Lord. Joshua knew how to detect the man who had stolen the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment. Micaiah could point out the false spirit by which the four hundred prophets were governed; and if his advice had been taken, many lives would have been spared, (2 Chronicles 18) Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many other prophets possessed this power. Our Savior, the Apostles, and even the members of the Church were endowed with this gift, for, says Paul, (1 Corinthians 12), "To one is given the gift of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discerning of spirits." All these proceeded from the same Spirit of God, and were the gifts of God. The Ephesian church were enabled by this principle, "to try those that said they were apostles, and were not, and found them liars," (Revelation 2:2).

In tracing the thing to the foundation, and looking at it philosophically, we shall find a very material difference between the body and the spirit; the body is supposed to be organized matter, and the spirit, by many, is thought to be immaterial, without substance. With this latter statement we should beg leave to differ, and state that spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic and refined matter than the body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection, be again united with it.

Without attempting to describe this mysterious connection, and the laws that govern the body and the spirit of man, their relationship to each other, and the design of God in relation to the human body and spirit, I would just remark, that the spirits of men are eternal, that they are governed by the same Priesthood that Abraham, Melchizedek, and the Apostles were: that they are organized according to that Priesthood which is everlasting, "without beginning of days or end of years,"—that they all move in their respective spheres, and are governed by the law of God; that when they appear upon the earth they are in it probationary state, and are preparing, if righteous, for a future and greater glory; that the spirits of good men cannot interfere with the wicked beyond their prescribed bounds, for "Michael, the Archangel, dared not bring a railing accusation against the devil, but said, "The Lord rebuke thee, Satan.”

It would seem also, that wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws by which they are governed or controlled, and know their future destiny; hence, those that were in the maniac said to our Savior, "Art thou come to torment us before the time," and when Satan presented himself before the Lord, among the sons of God, he said that he came "from going to and fro in the earth, and from wandering up and down in it;" and he is emphatically called the prince of the power of the air; and, it is very evident that they possess a power that none but those who have the Priesthood can control, as we have before adverted to, in the case of the sons of Sceva.

Having said so much upon general principles, without referring to the peculiar situation, power, and influence of the magicians of Egypt, the wizards and witches of the Jews, the oracles of the heathen, their necromancers, soothsayers, and astrologers, the maniacs or those possessed of devils in the Apostles' days, we will notice, and try to detect (so far as we have the Scriptures for our aid) some few instances of the development of false spirits in more modern times, and in this our day.

The "French Prophets" were possessed of a spirit that deceived; they existed in Vivaris and Dauphany, in great numbers in the year 1688; there were many boys and girls from seven to twenty-five; they had strange fits, as in tremblings and faintings, which made them stretch out their legs and arms, as in a swoon; they remained awhile in trances, and coming out of them, uttered all that came in their mouths [see Buck's Theological Dictionary].

Now God never had any prophets that acted in this way; there was nothing indecorous in the proceeding of the Lord's prophets in any age; neither had the apostles, nor prophets in the apostles's day anything of this kind. Paul says, "Ye may all prophesy, one by one; and if anything be revealed to another let the first hold his peace, for the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets;" but here we find that the prophets are subject to the spirit, and falling down, have twitchings, tumblings, and faintings through the influence of that spirit, being entirely under its control. Paul says, "Let everything be done decently and in order," but here we find the greatest disorder and indecency in the conduct of both men and women, as above described. The same rule would apply to the fallings, twitchings, swoonings, shaking, and trances of many of our modern revivalists.

Johanna Southcott professed to be a prophetess, and wrote a book of prophecies in 1804, she became the founder of a people that are still extant. She was to bring forth, in a place appointed, a son, that was to be the Messiah, which thing has failed. Independent of this, however, where do we read of a woman that was the founder of a church, in the word of God? Paul told the women in his day, "To keep silence in the church, and that if they wished to know anything to ask their husbands at home;" he would not suffer a woman "to rule, or to usurp authority in the church;" but here we find a woman the founder of a church, the revelator and guide, the Alpha and Omega, contrary to all acknowledged rule, principle, and order.

Jemimah Wilkinson was another prophetess that figured largely in America, in the last century. She stated that she was taken sick and died, and that her soul went to heaven, where it still continues. Soon after, her body was reanimated with the spirit and power of Christ, upon which she set up as a public teacher, and declared that she had an immediate revelation. Now the Scriptures positively assert that "Christ is the first fruit, afterwards those that are Christ's at His coming, then cometh the end." But Jemimah, according to her testimony, died, and rose again before the time mentioned in the Scriptures. The idea of her soul being in heaven while her body was [living] on earth, is also preposterous. When God breathed into man's nostrils, he became a living soul, before that he did not live, and when that was taken away his body died; and so did our Savior when the spirit left the body, nor did His body live until His spirit returned in the power of His resurrection. But Mrs. Wilkinson's soul [life] was in heaven, and her body without the soul [or life] on earth, living [without the soul, or] without life!

The Irvingites, are a people that have counterfeited the truth, perhaps the nearest of any of our modern sectarians. They commenced about ten years ago in the city of London, in England; they have churches formed in various parts of England and Scotland, and some few in Upper Canada. Mr. Irving, their founder, was a learned and talented minister of the Church of Scotland, he was a great logician, and a powerful orator, but withal wild and enthusiastic in his views. Moving in the higher circles, and possessing talent and zeal, placed him in a situation to become a conspicuous character, and to raise up a society similar to that which is called after his name.

The Irvingites have apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and angels. They profess to have the gift of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues, and, in some few instances, to have the gift of healing.

The first prophetic spirit that was manifested was in some Misses Campbell that Mr. Irving met with, while on a journey in Scotland; they had [what is termed among their sect] "utterances," which were evidently of a supernatural agency. Mr. Irving, falling into the common error of considering all supernatural manifestations to be of God, took them to London with him, and introduced them into his church.

They were there honored as the prophetesses of God, and when they spoke, Mr. Irving or any of his ministers had to keep silence. They were peculiarly wrought upon before the congregation, and had strange utterances, uttered with an unnatural, shrill voice, and with thrilling intonations they frequently made use of a few broken, unconnected sentences, that were ambiguous, incoherent, and incomprehensible; at other times they were more clearly understood. They would frequently cry out, "There is iniquity! There is iniquity!" And Mr. Irving has been led, under the influence of this charge, to fall down upon his knees before the public congregation, and to confess his sin, not knowing whether he had sinned, nor wherein, nor whether the thing referred to him, or somebody else. During these operations, the bodies of the persons speaking were powerfully wrought upon, their countenances were distorted, they had frequent twitchings in their hands, and the whole system was powerfully convulsed at intervals: they sometimes, however, (it is supposed) spoke in correct tongues, and had true interpretations.

Under the influence of this spirit the church was organized by these women; apostles, prophets, &c. were soon called, and a systematic order of things introduced, as above mentioned. A Mr. Baxter (afterwards one of their principal prophets) upon going into one of their meetings, says, "I saw a power manifested, and thought that was the power of God, and asked that it might fall upon me, and it did so, and I began to prophesy." Eight or nine years ago they had about sixty preachers going through the streets of London, testifying that London was to be the place where the "two witnesses" spoken of by John, were to prophesy; that (they) "the church and the spirit were the witnesses, and that at the end of three years and a half there was to be an earthquake and great destruction, and our Savior was to come. Their apostles were collected together at the appointed time watching the event, but Jesus did not come, and the prophecy was then ambiguously explained away. They frequently had signs given them by the spirit to prove to them that what was manifested to them should take place. Mr. Baxter related an impression that he had concerning a child. It was manifested to him that he should visit the child, and lay hands upon it, and that it should be healed; and to prove to him that this was of God, he should meet his brother in a certain place, who should speak unto him certain words. His brother addressed him precisely in the way and manner that the manifestation designated. The sign took place, but when he laid his hands upon the child it did not recover. I cannot vouch for the authority of the last statement, as Mr. Baxter at that time had left the Irvingites, but it is in accordance with many of their proceedings, and the thing never has been attempted to be denied.

It may be asked, where is there anything in all this that is wrong?

1st. The church was organized by women, and "God placed in the Church (first apostles, secondarily prophets), and not first women; but Mr. Irving placed in his church first women (secondarily apostles), and the church was founded and organized by them. A woman has no right to found or organize a church—God never sent them to do it.

2nd. Those women would speak in the midst of a meeting, and rebuke Mr. Irving or any of the church. Now the Scripture positively says, "Thou shalt not rebuke an Elder, but entreat him as a father:" not only this, but they frequently accused the brethren, thus placing themselves in the seat of Satan, who is emphatically called "the accuser of the brethren.”

3rd. Mr. Baxter received the spirit on asking for it, without attending to the ordinances, and began to prophesy, whereas the scriptural way of attaining the gift of the Holy Ghost is by baptism, and by laying on of hands.

4th. As we have stated in regard to others, the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets; but those prophets were subject to the spirits, the spirits controlling their bodies at pleasure.

But it may be asked how Mr. Baxter could get a sign from a second person? To this we would answer, that Mr. Baxter's brother was under the influence of the same spirit as himself, and being subject to that spirit he could be easily made to speak to Mr. Baxter whatever the spirit should dictate; but there was not power in the spirit to heal the child.

Again it may be asked, how it was that they could speak in tongues if they were of the devil! We would answer that they could be made to speak in another tongue, as well as their own, as they were under the control of that spirit, and the devil can tempt the Hottentot, the Turk, the Jew, or any other nation; and if these men were under the influence of his spirit, they of course could speak Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Italian, Dutch, or any other language that the devil knew.

Some will say, "try the spirits" by the word. "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God" (John 4:2-3). One of the Irvingites once quoted this passage whilst under the influence of a spirit, and then said, "I confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh." And yet these prophecies failed, their Messiah did not come; and the great things spoken of by them have fallen to the ground. What is the matter here? Did not the Apostle speak the truth? Certainly he did—but he spoke to a people who were under the penalty of death, the moment they embraced Christianity; and no one without a knowledge of the fact would confess it, and expose themselves to death, and this was consequently given as a criterion to the church or churches to which John wrote. But the devil on a certain occasion cried out, "I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God!" Here was a frank acknowledgment under other circumstances that "Jesus had come in the flesh." On another occasion the devil said, "Paul we know, and Jesus we know"—of course, "come in the flesh." No man nor set of men without the regular constituted authorities, the Priesthood and discerning of spirits, can tell true from false spirits. This power they possessed in the Apostles' day, but it has departed from the world for ages.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also had its false spirits; and as it is made up of all those different sects professing every variety of opinion, and having been under the influence of so many kinds of spirits, it is not to be wondered at if there should be found among us false spirits.

Soon after the Gospel was established in Kirtland, and during the absence of the authorities of the Church, many false spirits were introduced, many strange visions were seen, and wild, enthusiastic notions were entertained; men ran out of doors under the influence of this spirit, and some of them got upon the stumps of trees and shouted, and all kinds of extravagances were entered into by them; one man pursued a ball that he said he saw flying in the air, until he came to a precipice, when he jumped into the top of a tree, which saved his life; and many ridiculous things were entered into, calculated to bring disgrace upon the Church of God, to cause the Spirit of God to be withdrawn, and to uproot and destroy those glorious principles which had been developed for the salvation of the human family. But when the authorities returned, the spirit was made manifest, those members that were exercised with it were tried for their fellowship, and those that would not repent and forsake it were cut off.

At a subsequent period a Shaker spirit was on the point of being introduced, and at another time the Methodist and Presbyterian falling down power, but the spirit was rebuked and put down, and those who would not submit to rule and good order were disfellowshiped. We have also had brethren and sisters who have had the gift of tongues falsely; they would speak in a muttering unnatural voice, and their bodies be distorted like the Irvingites before alluded to; whereas, there is nothing unnatural in the Spirit of God. A circumstance of this kind took place in Upper Canada, but was rebuked by the presiding Elder; another, a woman near the same place, professed to have the discerning of spirits, and began toaccuse another sister of things that she was not guilty of, which she said she knew was so by the spirit, but was afterwards proven to be false; she placed herself in the capacity of the "accuser of the brethren," and no person through the discerning of spirits can bring a charge against another, they must be proven guilty by positive evidence, or they stand clear.

There have also been ministering angels in the Church which were of Satan appearing as an angel of light. A sister in the state of New York had a vision, who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods, an angel would appear to her. She went at the appointed time, and saw a glorious personage descending, arrayed in white, with sandy colored hair; he commenced and told her to fear God, and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home, or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth, and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage, and many things that were false. How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel? By the color of his hair; that is one of the signs that he can be known by, and by his contradicting a former revelation.

We have also had brethren and sisters who have written revelations, and who have started forward to lead this Church. Such was a young boy in Kirtland, Isaac Russel, of Missouri, and Gladden Bishop, and Oliver Olney of Nauvoo. The boy is now living with his parents who have submitted to the laws of the Church. Mr. Russell stayed in Far West, from whence he was to go to the Rocky Mountains, led by three Nephites; but the Nephites never came, and his friends forsook him, all but some of the blood relations, who have since been nearly destroyed by the mob. Mr. Bishop was tried by the High Council, his papers examined, condemned and burned, and he cut off the Church. He acknowledged the justice of the decision, and said "that he now saw his error, for if he had been governed by the revelations given before, he might have known that no man was to write revelations for the Church, but Joseph Smith," and begged to be prayed for, and forgiven by the brethren. Mr. Olney has also been tried by the High Council and disfellowshiped, because he would not have his writings tested by the word of God; evidently proving that he loves darkness rather than light, because his deeds are evil.


  1. A serious discussion on discernment and trying the spirits is a sure sign to me that the Lord is working again among men and women. Deceiving spirits are the other side of the equation when light and truth are being taught. Thank you for introducing us to Joseph Smith’s powerful editorial on the matter, Adrian. As you say, it bears much serious study and prayer.

    A world with deceiving spirits has always been the sea in which we swam but most of us didn’t perceive that truth or care about it. Thanks for helping us to more clearly perceive and to care. Your post prepares us well to recognize and value Joseph Smith’s counsel which turns out to be lucid and based in truth and the love of truth. His examples of historical spiritual deception alert us to expect crazy sauce at every turn. An on-going claim by a well-intentioned seeker to enticing new teachings and practices that don’t measure up, puts a fine, real point on all of this. God help us all.

    BTW—should we ever happen upon you wearing the sheet we’ll take you aside privily and labor with love to get you back into a polo shirt and Dockers!

  2. I would add a dimension of insight as to knowledge to be 'judging righteously' who are of God and who are not...

    Decades ago we had a man as a stake president who was known for his wicked practices. I won't go into how or what, because it isn't germane to my comments here.

    This stake president was giving a fireside on the Book of Mormon and the Spirit was very strong, testifying that all he said was true. I was confused as to how and why this man could have the Spirit testify so strongly when he spoke, when we knew he had committed many evil things.

    I went home and inquired of the Lord as to why the Spirit had seemingly stood with this man. The answer I received was powerful and insightful. The Lord told me that the Spirit was not testifying of the goodness of this man, but rather the truth of the Book of Mormon.

    Wicked men can and do speak truths and the Spirit will testify and be felt when truth is spoken, but it does not justify or validate the goodness or validity of the speaker or his position.

    We are taught often to look at the fruits, the Spirit to determine if someone is to be looked to as a spiritual guide, but we need to discern or ask the Lord 'specifically' if the messenger is His, and not just assume that because the Spirit testified of his words ... that automatically the Spirit is validating him as well.

    1. If it's not the messenger, but the message that's important, how vital is it to know if a certain man or woman is a true messenger?

      From your story, we learn that the Spirit testifies of truth no matter if an evil man delivers the message of truth. And we also know that even a true messenger, like Joseph Smith, only speaks truth when speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost. So a true messenger probably says incorrect things from time to time, or at least mingles opinion and personal interpretation with truth. I would imagine that happens with Denver Snuffer, which means he may say something true in one sentence and in the very next sentence say something that is false or simply an opinion.

      Furthermore, Brother Snuffer repetitively cautions us to not follow him in any way, and to implement the advice of James 1:5.

      I do agree with Patty that the question of discernment should be a high priority for everybody today. How to discern the still, small voice of the Lord has been the #1 question on my mind since discovering last Nov that true prophets live among us. The Spirit has been moving me to study this out and to learn to hear the voice of the Lord. Thankfully, I'm progressing. And have benefited by reading this book (by an anonymous person who's seen the Lord) found here:

      This "movement" to discern the voice of God at an individual level seems to be widespread and worldwide now, and must be, if Zion is to be redeemed.

      To that end, I'm going to study Adrian's link mentioned above:

      As well, I highly recommend this post I found recently. This was extremely illuminating and offers inspired insight in my humble opinion on the topic of how the Spirit operates:

  3. Adrian,
    This is well-thought and researched, but I would like to add an alternate viewpoint to your statement (which looks like it was borrowed from the Upward Thought blog. Perhaps he borrowed it from somewhere else, I don't know.):

    "The challenge to discern God’s voice from all others is the universal challenge of mankind. And we almost universally fail. Discernment is VERY difficult at first and requires you to be filled with light (Moses 1:15), which is obtained by sacrifice in obedience to God. If you assume you are “good” at discernment, this is a sure sign you are not."

    The Book of Mormon offers a way to discern "good" every time, that will never fail to display whether it be the works of God (and His will) or if it misses the mark. This is the "rock," the "sure foundation," the "stone," the "sure sign," the thing which if understood, you "cannot fall" and which "never faileth."

    Moroni tells us " is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as PLAIN, that ye may KNOW WITH A PERFECT KNOWLEDGE, as the daylight is from the dark night. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil"

    The reason that we almost "universally fail" is because our minds are darkened. The fact that you and everyone else are declaring how "VERY difficult" it is to discern is a sign that we still remain under condemnation. There is something we (the children of Zion, even all) have neglected: the Book of Mormon and the "new covenant" given therein. Not only to SAY, but to DO according to that which the Lord taught in Bountiful.

    What exactly is this covenant? It is quite clearly spoken by the Lord's own words (which can probably be summed up in 3 Ne 11:30), and ANYTHING more or less than these words come of evil, and will cause the the whirlwinds and rough waters to speedily send us through the gates of hell, whereas receiving and DOing the things commissioned to us will provide an immovable, "holy place" to stand.

    We will know we are on the right track when we bring forth "fruit meet for repentance." But until then, the scourge remains and we continue to see through a glass darkly.

  4. thanks for this and especially the Joseph Smith part...was actually looking for it and it showed up in my email with this notification you had a post. so much appreciated.

  5. It's probably better just to follow the brethren and cease trying to understand higher things. It sounds too risky! Why should anyone try the Spirits when there are regularly constituted authorities to do it for us? I'll keep reading more of this series if I can avoid deception, but my hopes should be fading fast. Thanks for the blog and your thoughts.


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