At the time Joseph and Oliver were baptized, they had no authority from heaven with which to confer the Holy Ghost. (JS-H 1: 70.) They had no ordinance available to them other than baptism. (JS-H 1: 70-71.) They performed the ordinance as instructed. But afterwards, without any authority to confer upon one another the Holy Ghost, they nevertheless had the gift of the Holy Ghost poured out upon them. (JS-H 1: 73.) This was not merely a temporary visit. It lingered thereafter with them so they could understand the scriptures in the manner they were intended to be understood when these scriptures were first inspired by the Holy Ghost in the minds of the prophets who wrote them. (JS-H 1: 74.)
The Holy Ghost can come and visit with a person, but not tarry with them. (D&C 130: 23.) If it comes and visits with them, then it is said the person has “received” the Holy Ghost. This kind of visit is conditional. It is dependent upon the worthiness and desire of the recipient. If they “grieve” the spirit by misbehavior, it will depart from them. If you read general conference talks discussing this issue, you will find this is the form of Holy Ghost received by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the Holy Ghost to become a constant companion which tarries, it is said to be “the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Because the one with this endowment has received a gift from God, and it is given to them by God to be theirs.
The ordinance given when converts are confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes these words: “And I say unto you, receive the Holy Ghost.” This is the formula given in the priesthood manuals of the church, and is included in the General Handbook of Instructions. It is an admonition from the church elder to the convert. The obligation to then search for and obtain a visit from the Holy Ghost is imposed on the convert.
When Christ was speaking of the Lamanites and their baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (3 Ne. 9: 20), He was speaking not merely of the Holy Ghost descending and not tarrying with them (D&C 130: 23), but of their possession of the gift which endured thereafter. (Hel. 5: 48-50.)
I was baptized on September 9, 1973 at Kittery Point Beach on the Atlantic coast by Elder Brian Black. The service was presided over by Brother Jim Mortenson, a counselor in the Portsmouth, New Hampsire Ward. After baptism, as I knelt on the sand, the missionaries confirmed me a member of the church and admonished me to “receive the Holy Ghost.” The service was in the evening. Just prior to the laying on of hands, Elder Black spoke about the symbols in the sky. The sun was setting, but still visible. The moon was also out, and the first “stars” were also faintly visible. [The “stars” we could see included Venus, hence the quotation marks.] Elder Black remarked that “all the signs of heaven were visible; the sun, symbolizing the Celestial; the moon, symbolizing the Terrestrial; and the stars, symbolizing the Telestial.” His beautiful remarks affected my thinking so much I can still recall them nearly 40 years later.
As the admonition was given to me, I felt a warmth begin at the top of my head where the hands were touching me. It proceeded downward through my entire person as if something was descending and filling me. The North Atlantic water was cold, particularly at that time of year, and the sand I knelt on was also cold. But I felt a warmth which came from within that filled my entire body.
When we finished at the beach, we all went to Jim and Monte Mortenson’s house for a gathering. It was dubbed a “birthday party” in reference to my baptism. When we arrived, Jim asked me to say the “opening prayer” before we ate. I was perfectly willing to say the prayer, but I hesitated for a few moments before doing so because I sensed the “spirit” wasn’t quite right yet. So rather than immediately interrupt the laughter and loud voices, I tried to bring the group spirit around to something more reverent. As I hesitated, I think Jim assumed I was not yet ready to pray in public (as many new converts are), and moved on to ask another to pray. She did, and we ate.
The boisterous spirit was still there after the prayer, and as the group of us sat in the Mortenson’s living room the spirit of the evening became more and more divisive. At a point there was contention between some of the group, and the evening was taking a turn downward, grieving the spirit altogether. At that moment I stood and got everyone’s attention. When silence settled in, I started with one end of the gathering, and spoke in turn to each person there. I began by saying, “whatever ambition the Adversary has for tonight, I intend to resist it.” I then spoke to their hearts, prophesied and let the love I felt within me pour out. The effect upon those who were there softened their demeanor, brought a spirit of friendship back into the gathering, and although none of them may remember it today, it is to me as clear as if it happened minutes ago. Jim Mortenson spoke up when I finished and said he was confident I would one day be a church patriarch– a remark that meant nothing at the time because I knew nothing about such a position.
You must remember that before conversion I was not even a likely candidate to become Mormon. When the elders were teaching me they asked that I read the Book of Mormon. I agreed. After I had read some of it, they asked me what I thought of it. I replied: “It’s got to be scripture. It’s every bit as boring as the Bible.” I meant it. Neither the Book of Mormon or the Bible meant much to me. I couldn’t sense any Spirit or depth to it. Nothing in it thrilled me or touched my heart.
After baptism, however, it all changed. Like Joseph and Oliver I could say “my mind now being enlightened, I began to have the scriptures laid open to my understanding, and the true meaning of their more mysterious passages revealed to me in a manner which I never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.” (Compare JS-H 1: 74.) What I found was that the scriptures were now written for me. They were the means through which God could lay out His mind and His will and His voice in a way I had never dreamed possible before.
The journey back to Him begins with all He has provided and preserved of His word. It begins for each of us in the scriptures. One of the immediate effects of baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is to have the scriptures come alive; to have them overwhelm you with revelation, light and truth. It is not you doing this. It is you experiencing it, but the Holy Spirit opening and lighting them so the same Spirit which gave them at first now receives them in you.
This subject (baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost) is variegated. It is important to avoid reducing it to a single, simple explanation and ignore other important features of this great gift from God.