The Holy Ghost or Precepts of Men
So many Latter-day Saint teachers resort to sentimentality and emotion in their teaching, talks, books and testimonies. Some are fooled into thinking an emotional reaction is the same as a witness of the Spirit. Emotions rarely communicate light and truth or intelligence. The Spirit bears witness of the truth, conveys light and intelligence, and may not at all be emotional. Or, if emotions are involved, it may be fear1, dread2, or even horror3 at what you encounter. Mere sentimentality is a false substitute for the witness of the Spirit. Joseph Smith explained it this way:
“When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” (TPJS p. 151.)
The warning from Nephi about how you deny the power of God, you reject the gift of the Holy Ghost whenever you "hearken to the precepts of men" is based on this principle. You have the tools to detect when you are being taught by men using the arm of flesh to advance an idea or notion. You are accountable, hence the "wo" pronounced on you by Nephi.
Ask yourself the following questions as you hear a teacher:
- Does he teach you to come to Christ?
- Do the teachings convey intelligence upon you, or just sentiment?
- Do they awaken inside you light and truth that you hadn't considered before?
- Are the teachings based on the revelations of heaven, or some study, analysis or tool developed by academics?
- Are you encouraged to seek for a confirmation from the Spirit?
- Did you learn something new, but find yourself feeling you have known it before?
- Whether it causes dread, fear or even horror, does the Spirit tell you, nonetheless, it is of God?
- Are you more inclined to get on your knees and call upon God because of what you have learned?
- Does the speaker merely want you to honor her, or an institution?
- Does the speaker hold him/herself out as an expert or someone with impressive credentials?
- Does he rely on status or office as the reason to trust his teaching, or instead rely on the truthfulness of his message? No power or influence can or ought to be exerted by virtue of office or position, only by persuasion and pure knowledge.4
- Are the words noble and great, despite your view of the person who is delivering them?
You may be surprised when you ask such questions at what you learn. Nephi is saying it is your own responsibility if you allow yourself to be taken in by the precepts of men. Wo unto you if you do.
1. "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5)
2. "And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:17)
3. "And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:" (Genesis 15:12-18)
See also: LHB's Dream: Dead Man Walking
4. "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—" (D&C 121:41-42)
The reaction of king Noah and his priests and his people.
The reaction of the people of king Benjamin. "And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them. And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth."
The people who heard Christ say they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Laman and Lemuel trembling at Lehi's preaching and raging at Nephi's.
Fear and anger are very often accompanied by exposure to truth.
The reaction of the Nephites discovering the plates of the Jaredites: "Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea, and even from that time back until the creation of Adam. Now this account did cause the people of Mosiah to mourn exceedingly, yea, they were filled with sorrow; nevertheless it gave them much knowledge, in the which they did rejoice." (Mosiah 28:17-18)