The Saints sang, and they shouted. In the June conference after the organization of the church in 1830, Joseph Smith’s draft history records:
Some prophecied, many spoke with new tongues, and ^several^ of our number were ^so^ completely overpowered for a time, that we were obliged to lay them upon beds &c &c, and when bodily sensibility was restored to them they shouted Hosannas to God and the Lamb & declared that the Heavens had been opened unto them, ^especially N Knights^ that they had seen Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and many other great and glorious things. [n1]
But this was not all, they healed the sick and cast out devils (sometimes at the same time). Newel Knight gets another vignette: He described being called to his aunt near this time. She was apparently on her deathbed. Knight discerned that her illness resulted from demonic possession and “cried unto the Lord for strength and wisdom that we might prevail” over the evil spirit. He “took her by the hand and commanded satan, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to depart. I told my aunt she should not die, but that she should live to se[e] her children grow up” and she was healed. [n2]
The missionaries of the first Lamanite mission soon made their layover in Ohio, which resulted in such dramatic conversions that the Church’s center of gravity shifted
east West. The missionaries left for Missouri and Church leaders had yet to move to Ohio from New York, and the new converts were, well enthusiastic. Like the New York saints, they spoke in new tongues, they feinted (hey it was good enough for the Book of Mormon peoples), and they healed. Sometimes they received invisible parchments from the heavens and translated them, sometimes, they acted out what were apparently ecstatic scenes from the Book of Mormon peoples. John Corrill, one of the Church’s designated historians explained it with some contempt:
Many improprieties and visionary notions crept into the church, which tried the feelings of the more sound minded. Many young persons became very visionary, and had divers operations of the Spirit, as they supposed. They saw
marvelous^wonderful^ lights in the air and on the ground, and would relate many great and marvelous things which they saw in their visions. They conducted themselves in a strange manner, sometimes imitating Indians in their maneauvres, sometimes running out into the fields, getting on stumps of trees and there preaching as though surrounded by a congregation,— all the while so completely absorbed in visions as to be apparently insensible to all that was passing around them. I would here remark, however, that it was but a very few of the church that was^who were^ exercised in that way. The more substantial minded looked upon it with astonishment, and were suspicious that it was from an evil source. [n3]
When JS and the others from New York arrived, they had some business to take care of. Once the windows of heavens are opened, how do control how people get wet? I really like Robin Jensen’s work on this period and in particular the regulation of revelation (do a search for him and “interview” in the sidebar). Part of this regulation was the reception of Section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants—Revelation, ca. March 8, 1831.
This revelation regulates more than spiritual gifts, but that is what we are focusing on. It is similar to the litanies of gifts as offered by Paul (and Moroni, who apparently liked Paul), and there are some interesting conversations to have about those sources as well, which I will leave to others for the time being. For now, let’s walk through the relevant portion, with some comments:
8-9: here we have the regulation. Also, what does it mean to consume signs upon one’s lusts?
10: Remember the gifts, note that seizures apparently are not among them.
11. Everyone gets a gift or more. Here is a great place for an important tangent. The lesson manual states:
1. All faithful members of the Church can receive gifts of the Spirit.
Explain that gifts of the Spirit are spiritual blessings or abilities that are given through the Holy Ghost. These gifts were taken from the earth during the Great Apostasy, but God restored them in the early days of this dispensation. The exercise of these gifts can bless, edify, and unify us.
So, when you go through the litany of gifts, please remember that these gifts are gifts of the spirit, not gifts of the priesthood, nor gifts of particular callings. What is that you say? Can non-ordained church members have the gift to heal? That is a great question. I recommend a nice concise treatment of the topic here, but let’s defer to Joseph Smith:
“Go ye into all the world” &c.— no matter who believeth; these signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils &c. should follow all that believe whether male or female…if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on.
Later in the same sermon he stated that “respecting the propriety of females administering to the sick by the laying on of hands— said it was according to revelation.”
The same goes for the rest of the gifts.
- Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard Jensen, eds., Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 366-368.
- Newell Knight, Autobiography, 24-25, microfilm of holograph, MS 767, LDS Church History Library.
- John Corrill, “Brief History,” Manuscript, ca. 6 April 1838– ca. 26 January 1839, JSPP.