In the early days of the church members waited with anticipation for the Prophet Joseph Smith to reveal something new, something exciting, and something prophetic to them. They often got what they waited for. Joseph Smith penned over a hundred “sections” of revelation from the Lord in the D&C. He also received revelation that led to the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
Latter-day Saints have long felt proud and comforted that they belong to a church that is led by a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” But sometimes critics ask, and we ourselves might ask, where has all the revelation gone? Where is the prophecy like in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young? We haven’t appended the scriptures in a pretty long time, and it has been very infrequent in the last 100 years. Has revelation ceased in the church?
My instinctive response is that the Lord revealed just about all that he intends to reveal for a while through an avalanche of revelation to the Prophet Joseph. Because Joseph was heading up a new dispensation, he needed to start from scratch. Everything had to be taught to him and to us. Today that isn’t the case, as we now rest on the fundamental knowledge revealed in that century with the occasional new revelation. Joseph said:
“And again we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case; and that in a council of High Priests.”1
The groundwork was laid long ago, and today we try to follow it.
This argument sounds almost too Evangelical in nature to me, but I still think it is largely correct. However, I was impressed with an answer to this question that Blake Ostler gives in his FAIR presentation entitled “Spiritual Experience as a Basis for Belief and Life Commitment.” I quote it below:
The reception of spiritual experiences doesn’t entail that they are all scripture. The argument is common that because the prophet is not receiving revelations like Joseph Smith that are written in scripture, therefore prophecy and revelation have ceased in the Church….With all due respect I don’t see a “thus saith the Lord” in the [unintelligible] in a long time. Does that mean that the Church has ceased to receive revelation and is therefore no longer true? I suggest looking at it from a different perspective. The goal has always been a “nation of prophets” who themselves are governed by personal revelation. Each person, each Sunday School teacher, each Relief Society president, and (in my case) every Nursery leader, must receive revelation for their stewardship and the accountability for receiving revelation; and it shifts the accountability to each member so that we can’t avoid our responsibility by relying on the prophet to have revelations for us. In fact, I suggest that there is more revelation in the Church now than in the time of Joseph Smith, not less. The goal has always been a “nation of prophets.”2
Bolded emphasis mine.
What an outstanding observation! Unlike the saints in the 19th century, we do not rely on the prophet to guide us nearly so often. We don’t need to! The church has matured into what it was meant to be, a “nation of prophets” as Ostler says. Joseph taught this principle many times. Below is a collection of quotes by Joseph on this topic, plus a couple of quotes that are just really neat and are related:
“Search the scriptures-search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God”3
It is also the privilege of any officer in this Church to obtain revelations, so far as relates to his particular calling and duty in the Church. All are bound by the principles of virtue and happiness, but one great privilege of the Priesthood is to obtain revelations of the of the mind and will of God. It is also the privilege of the Melchizedek Priesthood, to reprove, rebuke, and admonish, as well as to receive revelation.4
It is the privilege of the children of God to come to God and get revelation… 5
Spring water tastes best right from the fountain. 6
It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind.7
Words of John Taylor: Concerning government: Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. “How?” responded the gentleman; “to us it is very difficult.” Mr. Smith replied, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” 8
1. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols. 1:338, 339
2. Blake Ostler, “Spiritual Experiences as a Basis for Belief and Life Commitment.” FAIR Conference, 2007. http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2007_Spiritual_Experiences.html
3. Joseph Smith, Evening and Morning Star, No. 2, Aug. 1832
4. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols. 2:477
5. Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 13, 14; standardized
6. Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 122
7. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols.
8. Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 13:339