3. Revelation gives to man his surest knowledge of God. Scriptural instances of the Lord, specifically Jehovah, manifesting Himself to His prophets in olden as in later times are abundant. We have already noted, as the foundation of many traditions relating to the existence and personality of God, His revelations of Himself to Adam and other antediluvian patriarchs; then to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. An example briefly mentioned in Genesis is that of Enoch, the father of Methuselah; of him we read that he walked with God; and furthermore that the Lord manifested Himself with particular plainness to this righteous prophet, revealing unto him the course of events until the time of Christ’s appointed ministry in the flesh, the plan of salvation through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son, and the scenes that were to follow until the final judgment.
Of Moses we read that he heard the voice of God, who spoke to him from the midst of the burning bush in Mount Horeb, saying: “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.” Unto Moses and assembled Israel God appeared in a cloud, with the terrifying accompaniment of thunders and lightnings, on Sinai: “Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.” Of a later manifestation we are told: “Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.”
On through the time of Joshua and the Judges and during the period of kingly rule, the Lord declared His presence and His power to Israel. Isaiah saw the Lord enthroned in the midst of a glorious company, and cried out, “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.”
At a subsequent period, when Christ emerged from the waters of baptism, the voice of the Father was heard declaring: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; ” and on the occasion of our Lord’s transfiguration, the same voice repeated this solemn and glorious acknowledgment. While Stephen was suffering martyrdom at the hands of his cruel and bigoted countrymen, the heavens were opened, and he “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”
The Book of Mormon is replete with instances of communication between God and His people, mostly through vision and by the ministration of angels, but also through direct manifestation of the divine presence. Thus, we read of a colony of people leaving the Tower of Babel and journeying to the western hemisphere, under the leadership of one who is known in the record as the brother of Jared. In preparing for the ocean voyage, the man prayed that the Lord would touch with His finger, and thereby make luminous, certain stones, so that the voyagers might have light in the ships. In answer to this petition, the Lord stretched forth His hand and touched the stones, revealing His finger, which the man was surprised to see resembled the finger of a human being. Then the Lord, pleased with the man’s faith, made Himself visible, and demonstrated to the brother of Jared that man was formed literally after the image of the Creator. To the Nephites who inhabited the western continent, Christ revealed Himself after His resurrection and ascension. To these sheep of the western fold, He testified of His commission received from the Father, showed the wounds in His hands, feet, and side, and ministered unto the believing multitudes in many ways.
In the present dispensation, God has revealed Himself to His people. By faith and sincerity of purpose Joseph Smith, while yet a youth, won for himself a manifestation of God’s presence, being privileged to behold both the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ the Son. His testimony of the existence of God is not dependent upon tradition or studied deduction; he declares to the world that both the Father and Christ the Son live, for he has beheld their persons, and has heard their voices. In addition to the manifestation cited, Joseph Smith and his fellow servant, Sidney Rigdon, state that on February 16, 1832, they saw the Son of God, and conversed with Him in heavenly vision. In describing this manifestation they say: “And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever. And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father-That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”
Again, on April 3, 1836, in the Temple at Kirtland, Ohio, the Lord manifested Himself to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who say of the occasion: “We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold in color like amber. His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.”
The Godhead: The Trinity-Three personages composing the great presiding council of the universe have revealed themselves to man: (1) God the Eternal Father; (2) His Son, Jesus Christ; and (3) the Holy Ghost. That these three are separate individuals, physically distinct from each other, is demonstrated by the accepted records of divine dealings with man. On the occasion of the Savior’s baptism, John recognized the sign of the Holy Ghost; he saw before him in a tabernacle of flesh the Christ, unto whom he had administered the holy ordinance; and he heard the voice of the Father. The three personages of the Godhead were present, manifesting themselves each in a different way, and each distinct from the others. Later the Savior promised His disciples that the Comforter, who is the Holy Ghost, should be sent unto them by His Father; here again are the three members of the Godhead separately defined. Stephen, at the time of his martyrdom, was blessed with the power of heavenly vision, and he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God. Joseph Smith, while calling upon the Lord in fervent prayer, saw the Father and the Son, standing in the midst of light that shamed the brightness of the sun; and one of these declared of the other, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Each of the members of the Trinity is called God, together they constitute the Godhead.
Unity of the Godhead-The Godhead is a type of unity in the attributes, powers, and purposes of its members. Jesus, while on earth and in manifesting Himself to His Nephite servants, repeatedly testified of the unity existing between Himself and the Father, and between them both and the Holy Ghost. This cannot rationally be construed to mean that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one in substance and in person, nor that the names represent the same individual under different aspects. A single reference to prove the error of any such view may suffice: Immediately before His betrayal, Christ prayed for His disciples, the Twelve, and other converts, that they should be preserved in unity, “that they all may be one” as the Father and the Son are one. We cannot assume that Christ prayed that His followers lose their individuality and become one person, even if a change so directly opposed to nature were possible. Christ desired that all should be united in heart, spirit, and purpose; for such is the unity between His Father and Himself, and between them and the Holy Ghost.
This unity is a type of completeness; the mind of any one member of the Trinity is the mind of the others; seeing as each of them does with the eye of perfection, they see and understand alike. Under any given conditions each would act in the same way, guided by the same principles of unerring justice and equity. The one-ness of the Godhead, to which the scriptures so abundantly testify, implies no mystical union of substance, nor any unnatural and therefore impossible blending of personality. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are as distinct in their persons and individualities as are any three personages in mortality. Yet their unity of purpose and operation is such as to make their edicts one, and their will the will of God. Even in bodily appearance the Father and the Son are alike; therefore said Christ when importuned by Philip to show to him and others the Father: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me.”
Personality of Each Member of the Godhead-From the evidence already presented, it is clear that the Father is a personal being, possessing a definite form, with bodily parts and spiritual passions. Jesus Christ, who was with the Father in spirit before coming to dwell in the flesh, and through whom the worlds were made, lived among men as a man, with all the physical characteristics of a human being; after His resurrection He appeared in the same form; in that form He ascended into heaven; and in that form He has manifested Himself to the Nephites, and to modern prophets. We are assured that Christ was in the express image of His Father, after which image man also has been created. Therefore we know that both the Father and the Son are in form and stature perfect men; each of them possesses a tangible body, infinitely pure and perfect and attended by transcendent glory, nevertheless a body of flesh and bones.
The Holy Ghost, called also Spirit, and Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of God, Comforter, and Spirit of Truth, is not tabernacled in a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of spirit; yet we know that the Spirit has manifested Himself in the form of a man. Through the ministrations of the Spirit the Father and the Son may operate in their dealings with mankind; through Him knowledge is communicated, and by Him the purposes of the Godhead are achieved. The Holy Ghost is the witness of the Father and the Son, declaring to man their attributes, bearing record of the other personages of the Godhead.
Some of the Divine Attributes-God is Omnipresent-There is no part of creation, however remote, into which God cannot penetrate; through the medium of the Spirit the Godhead is in direct communication with all things at all times. It has been said, therefore, that God is everywhere present; but this does not mean that the actual person of any one member of the Godhead can be physically present in more than one place at one time. The senses of each of the Trinity are of infinite power; His mind is of unlimited capacity; His powers of transferring Himself from place to place are infinite; plainly, however, His person cannot be in more than one place at any one time. Admitting the personality of God, we are compelled to accept the fact of His materiality; indeed, an “immaterial being,” under which meaningless name some have sought to designate the condition of God, cannot exist, for the very expression is a contradiction in terms. If God possesses a form, that form is of necessity of definite proportions and therefore of limited extension in space. It is impossible for Him to occupy at one time more than one space of such limits; and it is not surprising, therefore, to learn from the scriptures that He moves from place to place. Thus we read in connection with the account of the Tower of Babel, “And the Lord [i. e., Jehovah, the Son] came down to see the city and the tower.” Again, God appeared to Abraham, and having declared Himself to be “the Almighty God,” He talked with the patriarch, and established a covenant with him; then we read “And he left off talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.”
God is Omniscient-By Him matter has been organized and energy directed. He is therefore the Creator of all things that are created; and “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” His power and His wisdom are alike incomprehensible to man, for they are infinite. Being Himself eternal and perfect, His knowledge cannot be otherwise than infinite. To comprehend Himself, an infinite Being, He must possess an infinite mind. Through the agency of angels and ministering servants He is in continuous communication with all parts of creation, and may personally visit as He may determine.
God is Omnipotent-He is properly called the Almighty. Man can discern proofs of the divine omnipotence on every side, in the forces that control the elements of earth and guide the orbs of heaven in their prescribed courses. Whatever His wisdom indicates as necessary to be done God can and will do. The means through which He operates may not be of infinite capacity in themselves, but they are directed by an infinite power. A rational conception of His omnipotence is power to do all that He may will to do.
God is kind, benevolent, and loving-tender, considerate, and long-suffering, bearing patiently with the frailties of His children. He is just and merciful in judgment, yet combining with these gentler qualities firmness in avenging wrongs. He is jealous of His own power and the reverence paid to Him; that is to say, He is zealous for the principles of truth and purity, which are nowhere exemplified in a higher degree than in His personal attributes. This Being is the author of our existence, Him we are permitted to approach as Father. Our faith will increase in Him as we learn of Him.
Idolatry and Atheism-From the abundant evidence of the existence of Deity, the idea of which is so generally held by the human family, there seems to be little ground on which man may rationally assert and maintain a disbelief in God; and, in view of the many proofs of the benignant nature of the divine attributes, there ought to be little tendency to turn aside after false and unworthy objects of worship. Yet the history of the race shows that theism, which is the doctrine of belief in and acceptance of God, is opposed by many varieties of atheism; and that man is prone to belie his claim as a creature of reason, and to offer his worship at idolatrous shrines. Atheism is probably a development of later times, while idolatry asserted itself as one of the early sins of the race. Even at the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God deemed it proper to command by statute, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” yet even while He wrote those words on the stony tablets, His people were defiling themselves before the golden calf they had fashioned after the pattern of an Egyptian idol.
Man possesses an instinct for worship; he craves and will find some object of adoration. When he fell into the darkness of persistent transgression, and forgot the author of his being and the God of his fathers, he sought for other deities. Some came to regard the sun as the type of the supreme, and before that luminary they prostrated themselves in supplication. Others selected for adoration earthly phenomena; they marveled over the mystery of fire, and worshiped the flame. Some saw, or thought they saw, the emblem of the pure and the good in water, and they rendered their devotions by running streams. Others, awed into reverence by the grandeur of towering mountains, repaired to these natural temples and worshiped the altar instead of Him by whose power it had been raised. Another class, more strongly imbued with a reverence for the emblematic, sought to create for themselves artificial objects of adoration. They made images by hewing uncouth figures from tree trunks, and chiseling strange forms in stone, and to these they bowed.
Idolatrous practises in some of their phases came to be associated with rites of horrible cruelties, as in the custom of sacrificing children to Moloch, and, among the Hindoos, to the Ganges; as also in the slaughter of human beings under Druidical tyranny. The gods that human-kind have set up for themselves are heartless, pitiless, cruel.
Atheism is the denial of the existence of God; in a milder form it may consist in ignoring Deity. But the professed atheist, in common with his believing fellow mortals, is subject to man’s universal passion for worship; though he refuses to acknowledge the true and living God, he consciously or unconsciously deifies some law, some principle, some attribute of the human soul, or perchance some material creation; and to this he turns, to seek a semblance of the comfort that the believer finds in rich abundance through prayer addressed to his Father and God. I doubt the existence of a thorough atheist-one who with the sincerity of a settled conviction denies in his heart the existence of an intelligent and supreme power.
The idea of God is an inherent characteristic of the human soul. The philosopher recognizes the necessity of such in his theories of being. He may shrink from the open acknowledgment of a personal Deity, yet he assumes the existence of a governing power, of a great unknown, of the unknowable, the illimitable, the unconscious. Oh, man of learning though not of wisdom, why reject the privileges extended to you by the omnipotent, omniscient Being to whom you owe your life, yet whose name you will not acknowledge? No mortal can approach Him while contemplating His perfections and might with aught but awe and reverence; regarding Him only as Creator and God, we are abashed in thought of Him; but He has given us the right to approach Him as His children, and to call upon Him by the name of Father. Even the atheist feels, in the more solemn moments of his life, a yearning of the soul toward a spiritual Parent, as naturally as his human affections turn toward the father who gave him mortal life. The atheism of today is but a species of paganism after all.
Sectarian View of the Godhead-The consistent, simple, and authentic doctrine respecting the character and attributes of God, such as was taught by Christ and the apostles, gave way as revelation ceased and as the darkness incident to the absence of divine authority fell upon the world, after the apostles and the Priesthood had been driven from the earth; and in its place appeared numerous theories and dogmas of men, many of which are utterly incomprehensible in their inconsistency and mysticism.
In the year 325, the Council of Nice was convened by the emperor Constantine, who sought through this body to secure a declaration of Christian belief that would be received as authoritative, and be the means of arresting the increasing dissension incident to the prevalent disagreement regarding the nature of the Godhead and other theological subjects. The Council condemned some of the theories then current, including that of Arius, which asserted that the Son was created by the Father, and therefore could not be coeternal with the Father. The Council promulgated what is known as the Nicene Creed; and this was followed in time by the Athanasian Creed over which, however, controversy has arisen as to authorship. The creed follows: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated; but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty; and yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Ghost is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God.” It would be difficult to conceive of a greater number of inconsistencies and contradictions expressed in words as few.
The Church of England teaches the present orthodox view of God as follows: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.” The immateriality of God as asserted in these declarations of sectarian faith is entirely at variance with the scriptures, and absolutely contradicted by the revelations of God’s person and attributes, as shown by the citations already made.
We affirm that to deny the materiality of God’s person is to deny God; for a thing without parts has no whole, and an immaterial body cannot exist. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims against the incomprehensible God, devoid of “body, parts, or passions,” as a thing impossible of existence, and asserts its belief in and allegiance to the true and living God of scripture and revelation.