Wednesday, April 3, 2024

An Apostle’s Letter to a Missionary Son:


Elder Spencer W. Kimball discusses being “In” and “Out of the Spirit,” Testimony,

and Constructive Gospel Study

Transcribed and Edited by Dennis B. Horne


Editorial Note: The Church Archives has just recently scanned and posted a letter written in 1947 by Elder Spencer W. Kimball, by then an apostle for only a few years. The letter is largely doctrinal in nature, being answers to questions posed by his missionary son Andrew. The below text constitutes about half of the letter (and a couple of bonus excerpts of another). Anyone can read all or part of the original scans on the Church Archives site. Some small portions of the explanations given are now obsolete and some policies have changed, but much of the doctrinal reasoning from the scriptures is still sound and insightful—some exceptionally so, such as the below:


            [March 6, 1947] I hope you will permit my comment on your statement: “I told one fellow we contacted once and talked with a long while, that I knew of the truthfulness of what I told him, and said that the Holy Ghost had borne witness of it to me, I felt—and when I thought about it later I was a little concerned that I should do such a thing when I didn’t later feel that way, so I’ve carefully avoided bearing my testimony to anyone beyond the point of saying ‘I firmly believe, etc.’. . .”

            Now I think I know exactly how you felt for I went through the same experience in my mission. I wanted to be very honest with myself and with the program and with the Lord. For a time I couched my words carefully to try to build up others without actually committing myself to a positive, unequivocal statement that I knew. I felt a little sensitive about it too, for when I was in tune and doing my duty and had the spirit, I really wanted to say that which I really felt, that I did know, but I was reticent. When I approached a positive declaration it frightened me, and yet when I was wholly in tune and spiritually inspired, I wanted to so testify. I thought I was being honest, very honest, but finally decided that I was fooling myself as I became better acquainted with the program [gospel] of the Lord.

            I remembered that Heber C. Kimball stood in the Tabernacle when the Saints’ clothing was threadbare and little chance to get more, and by the time it came from the East by freight in wagons over the great desert the cost was almost prohibitive, and yet in the face of all that, Grandfather stood and when warmed up with the spirit, prophesied that clothes and commodities would soon be sold in the streets of Salt Lake cheaper than in New York City. And when he sat down and the spirit of prophecy had left him he almost gasped: “I guess I have missed it that time!” How could it ever come to pass?! But as you know the heavily laden wagons of the Forty-niners rushing to the gold fields of California became impatient to reach their destination and disposed of their surplus clothes and commodities at any price they would bring, thus fulfilling the prophecy which was so hopeless of fulfillment (looking at it with human vision) but which was uttered under the revelations of the Lord.

            Many of the brethren with whom I have labored have testified that they had felt impelled to utter promises in sealing the anointing [of the sick] that made them actually shiver after the blessing was over. The blessing was fulfilled and the impossible happened. While they were under the influence of the spirit of inspiration or revelation they felt it, but after they cooled off they trembled for fear they had been too lavish in their promises.

            Many times I have had similar experiences even in the old days at Safford [when stake president], but especially since I have done so much blessing here. Many times after I have ordained or set apart people I have had the Stake President or Bishop whisper to me: “You must have been inspired for you  gave that man the very blessing which was most appropriate. It could not have met his particular needs better if you had known him all your life instead of being a total stranger to him.”

            I have promised life in some cases (though I am generally very conservative); I have promised missionaries and servicemen a safe return; and I have literally trembled in my shoes afterward when I realized what a responsibility I was under, but long ago I have come to the conclusion that I shall speak what I seem inspired to say, having asked the Lord for that inspiration, and any effort on my part to curb the spirit would be rank folly and unappreciativeness and unresponsiveness to the moving of the spirit. I have come to realize that the Lord does not expect to reveal to us generally in actual daylight vision as he did to Joseph Smith in the grove. Sometimes it will come in open vision, sometimes in dreams, sometimes in whisperings, but generally His revelations will come about as He explained to Oliver Cowdery. Oliver had not kept himself in tune and the power of translation through revelation was taken from him. “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right, and if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought. . . .” (D&C 9:7)

            Two men walked out of Jerusalem to Emmaus discussing the important things which had transpired of late in the Capitol. Jesus joined them as they walked along “But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.” (Luke 24:16)

            The questions and answers consumed much time as they walked, then Jesus explained the scriptures to them, especially all the prophecies concerning himself. He sat at meat with them and blessed the food: “And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and He vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, DID NOT OUR HEARTS BURN WITHIN US, WHILE WE TALKED WITH HIM BY THE WAY, AND WHILE HE OPENED TO US THE SCRIPTURES.” (Luke 24:31-32)

            Undoubtedly the day you testified to your investigator that you knew it was true, the Lord was trying so hard to reveal this truth to you through the power of the Holy Ghost. While you were in the spirit and in tune and defending the holy program, you felt it deeply, but after you were ‘out of the spirit’ and began to reason with yourself and check yourself and question yourself, you wanted to back out.

            When Jesus walked on the water out of the ship and joined his disciples you will remember that He invited Peter to come to him. He tried it with full confidence but later probably began to reason about the treachery [high waves] of water with his finite mind, and began to sink and the Lord said to him, “O ye of little Faith, wherefore didst though doubt?” (Matt. 14) “Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him saying, ‘Of a truth, though art the Son of God’” Being with the Savior and full of the spirit they KNEW of His divinity, but probably when they were off alone and argued with themselves with their finite minds, being ‘out of the spirit’ they could argue Him entirely out of His divine position [in their own minds].

            John [the Baptist] who had said to Andrew “Behold the lamb of God” declared it with such fervor and conviction that Andrew followed Christ to His death—but after long solitary incarceration in jail it would seem that he [John] wondered. Perhaps he may have said to himself “Jesus could release me if He is God,” or perhaps he began to feel a doubt as to the Divinity of the Lord for he sent two disciples to ask “Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?” The incomparable answer of the Lord must have given John a testimony and reassurance that sustained him to his decapitation.

            Peter’s testimony came to him as a revelation from God. To the finite mind of 33 A.D. it was probably harder to visualize and comprehend and accept Jesus as Divine than it is for us in these days to testify of the divine work of Joseph Smith. Peter said: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” How did he know it? Certainly not because of His miracles, for there are others who worked some miracles. Not because He said He was the Son of God, for there were many false prophets and anti-Christs. It must have been difficult for them to consider Him a God, when He ate and slept and walked and lived with them. But Jesus revealed how he [Peter] knew it: “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my father which is in heaven.” In other words: “Peter, you didn’t get this knowledge from the scriptures, or from the Rabbis in the porches of the temple or from your parents or from any other human agency. GOD revealed to you the truth of this thing. Your testimony came from God.” Peter even felt like backing down, and did so, but after he realized how cowardly he had been and how weak, he came back with such force as to convert tens of thousands with his testimony.

            Remember in the Book of Moroni 10th chapter, 4th and 5th verses, the promise is given that on certain conditions God “will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may KNOW THE TRUTH of all things.” Such a testimony is not promised to anyone who reads the book with a critical attitude nor one who reads it to satisfy curiosity nor to one who resists it, but definitely it will come to everyone who has fully surrendered himself with an open mind and heart. And when this testimony comes to readers it is quite unlikely that it will come by flourish of trumpets or by handwriting on the wall or by audible voice, but by a burning of hearts in bosoms, and he that will receive it will know it and appreciate it, but if there is resistance it will not come.

            Your mother’s experience . . . was of this kind. She resisted the impulse to boldly declare the testimony that the Holy Ghost impressed upon her, and she felt miserable, but when she spoke as the spirit moved her, then came a calm tranquil feeling. Her heart burning within her. It was a testimony given to her. It came not thru the five senses, but by a feeling of assurance that was a testimony. Do not discredit it. “Grieve not the holy spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) “Be not therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. . . .” (2 Timothy 1:8)

            “Quench not the spirit,” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) said Paul who understood human nature well. He knew that the spirit whispers truths. He says also: “The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit. . . .” (Romans 8:16) “But he that soweth to the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.” (Galatians 6:8) Again: “For what man answereth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? And even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11) And read the rest of the chapter.

            Now in the first section [of the D&C] the Lord says: “The Lord is God, and the spirit beareth record, and the record is true. . . .” (D&C 1:39)

            The spirit of revelation is explained to Oliver Cowdery in the 8th section. It is enlightening and is followed by the 9th [section] already quoted, read also the 18th [section].

            The commandment to testify given to the Twelve is applicable to all His witnesses. See the last half of the 18th section: “These words are not of men nor of man, but of me, wherefore you shall testify they are of me and not of man . . . for they are given by my spirit unto you. . . .” (D&C 18:34-35)

            The Lord indicates “I who speak even by the voice of my spirit, even Alpha and Omega, your Lord and your God. . . .” (D&C 75:1)

            Many of the revelations of the past and present were given “with my voice, even the voice of my spirit. . . .” (D&C 97:1)

            “The Lord touched the eyes of our understanding and they were opened. . . .” (D&C 76:19; see verse 12 also)

            Now my son, there are different worlds, or different realms in our world—there are different sets of rules governing each—the spiritual laws are quite different from the physical ones. You cannot prove spiritual truths by the physical tests.

            [Quoting Pres. Clark] “Science and worldly knowledge must question every demonstration, every experiment, every conclusion, every phenomenon that seems a fact, for only by this method may the truths of the natural law become known to us, save by specific revelations.

            “But we shall also expect you to know that in matters pertaining to our spiritual lives, God’s revealed will, His laws, His commandments declared not only directly by himself but by and thru his servants, must be taken unquestioned, because they are the ultimate truths that shape and control our destinies.” (Pres. J. Reuben Clark Jr. [no citation given])

            Your attitude toward the ultimate truths is most vital. It should always be positive. You study and pray to build up your concept of the divine truths—that they ARE TRUE—not that they are false. [Fawn] Brodie[1] wrote hundreds of pages proving Joseph Smith a charlatan and a deceiver. She probably convinced herself at least, by her directional study. She is affected—her faith is gone—but she has not harmed Joseph Smith. He is what he is regardless of her and the number of iconoclasts like her.

            Now I think I understand just how you felt, my boy, for I have gone through the same experience. Just be patient and fearless and willing to acknowledge the testimony of the spirit when it comes to you. And I tell you again that conversions can come only through the testimony. When you boldly (like Paul) testify that Jesus was Christ and was crucified and resurrected and is the Son of God, you offer a challenge that can hardly help setting people to thinking. And this is equally true of the latter-day work. Be fearless as was Paul in bearing testimony, yet realize that you (like Paul) “have planted; Apollos (or Elder Blank) watered; BUT GOD GAVE THE INCREASE. . . .” (1 Corinthians 3:7)

            I have no question in my mind of your testimony. I am sure that you (like I did) have countless golden threads of testimony all thru your being only waiting for the hand of the Master Weaver to assemble and weave them into a tapestry of exquisite and perfect design.

            Now my son, take my advice and “quench not the spirit” but whenever the spirit whispers, follow its holy promptings. Keep in tune spiritually and listen for the promptings and when you are impressed speak out boldly your impressions. The Lord will magnify your testimony and touch hearts.

            I hope you will know that there is no criticism herein, but only attempted helpfulness. You have asked many questions. That is splendid. I am trying to help you in your thinking and studying—please accept all I write in that spirit.

            You mention that others are sincere. Of course they are but sincerity of belief is not sufficient to save. We recognize sincerity in the Jew and Catholic and Protestant, and bushman and hottentot and Buddhist, but their sincere belief is not comparable to a living knowledge and testimony. People were sincere in thinking the earth was flat. If one school believed the earth flat and another that it is round—regardless of their sincerity, and if each is equally sincere, only the one can be correct.

            At least some of the Jews were sincere in thinking the Nazarene an imposter but—we just continue to be tolerant and understanding and endeavor to convince the world that where the truths of man-made organizations and the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues. The truths they teach are largely ethical. We go forward from there with ethics and gospel that carries us through the mortal life and on past the heaven of their fondest dreams into worlds of progression and creative work which are to their religious concepts as the airplane to the bumblebee.

            You are right in using your personality and talents—developed to their highest possibilities—to attract and approach your prospects [investigators], but you have not cleared your skirts fully until you have left them your testimony.

            I cannot close my epistle to you without bearing you my testimony: I know that it is true; that Jesus is the Creator and Redeemer; that the Gospel taught by us and our . . . missionaries is restored and revealed through the real Prophet Joseph Smith and is of God, and I have consecrated the balance of my life to “preaching the kingdom.”. . . I am sure your testimony is the same except perhaps your golden threads need only to be woven into a complete tapestry which will quickly be accomplished in your missionary work as you turn your heart loose and let it rule your mind.

            May God help you to weave into a beautiful pattern the golden threads of your experience and inspiration and may you with always increasing power continue as you have in the yesterday of your life, to live and teach the everlasting truth. [Signed] Dad, Spencer W. Kimball


[January 7, 1947]

            The church is founded on revelation. Some time ago in one of our council meetings in the Temple when a very important matter was before us, one of the brethren suggested that no determination had ever been made on that matter. President Clark cryptically remarked: “Brethren, there never has been a group who had more authority than this group here.” Whenever we assume that all the revelations have been given and that only the recorded scriptures are our guide, we shall have taken much the same position that other churches had taken before the restoration and now. We must accept not only the Bible (so far as it is translated correctly) but the other standard works, and always, the living oracles. [p. 3]


            The revelations of the Lord are not the result of popular thinking, even though the despicable Brodie would have us believe. If we disregard or ignore the teachings and revelations of the Prophet Joseph and the Pearl of Great Price and standard works, we would fast tear out from under ourselves, the foundation on which we have built our house. Revelation is the foundation. [p. 5]


[January 31, 1947]

            I hope you will not feel that I am discouraging your thinking, but I would like to caution you that you be very careful in your study. Be sure that your study and thinking are always constructive rather than destructive. In other words, spend your effort in attempting to prove the truth, rather than the error. There is much in the attitude. For instance, a few nights ago as we took one of the widows of one of the former General Authorities home from a social, something was said about the brethren being gone traveling so much, and she made the remark: “For twenty years it seemed like all I could do was to drive my husband to the [train] depots and bid him good-bye.” And then I said to her, “Sister Blank, did you ever think of the twenty years of glorious reunions as your husband returned?” She had thot only of the negative or sorrows and had forgotten the joys.

            Fawn Brodie set out to prove that Joseph Smith was a fake, an imposter, and she found many many things which would support her theory when those alleged evidences were not weighed carefully. But when one sets out to prove that he was the greatest Prophet of the centuries, there are worlds of incontrovertible evidences.

            In science, perhaps, it may be justified to prove by the elimination method and prove everything wrong, but in the world of religion it is quite different. We must accept much by faith because it cannot be proven in the same manner. [p. 2]


[1] The anti-Mormon author of a biography of Joseph Smith


  1. Thank you! Please keep these coming.

  2. I always appreciate the materials you publish. Keep up the great work!