2 Nephi 28: 26:
“Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!”
Now we return to Nephi’s theme. Don’t listen to the “precepts of men.” This warning is not for the teachers or leaders. Nephi is not saying to them: “don’t teach with your own learning.” He has already consigned them to hell.(2 Nephi 28: 15, supra.) Now he is speaking to the “few, who are the humble followers of Christ.” (2 Nephi 28: 14.) In place of three “wo’s” there is only one.
Nephi pronounces a “wo” upon those who “hearken” or accept the “precepts of men.” They will be condemned. Their hopes will not be realized. They will suffer setbacks in their progression and will not attain to the hopes they might have otherwise attained. But their offense is less than that of the “lead them” and “cause them to err.” (2 Nephi 28: 14.)
If you “hearken” to the “precepts of men,” you are denying “the power of the God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.” It is necessary for you to both deny God’s power and rebel against the gift of the Holy Ghost in order for you to “hearken to the precepts of men.” God’s power was designed to keep you from making these errors. The gift of the Holy Ghost was given to lead you to the knowing the truth of all things. (Moroni 10: 5.) When, therefore, you hearken to men’s precepts you are not confirming through the Spirit that what is being taught is merely man’s precepts.
With a tool like the Holy Ghost available to you, you are accountable for what teachings you accept. It is possible for you to listen to a teacher whose precepts are dark and to know as he speaks that the Spirit does not ratify his words. It is your responsibility to weigh all things and hold onto only those things which are good. (1 Thes. 5: 21.)
When Jesus was asked about two witnesses He said He was one, the other was His Father, who also bore witness of Him. If they did not listen to the power of the Father, nor incline their hearts to receive the witness of the Spirit, then they could not know the Father, and could not receive that second witness. (John 8: 17-19.) Nephi is saying the same thing. That is, no man teaching the precepts of men should be able to deceive you. Rather, for every teaching and every teacher, there should be a second witness coming from above which bears witness to you that you are hearing the truth.
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 fear (Isa. 6: 5), dread (Gen. 28: 17), or even horror at what you encounter. (Gen. 15: 12-18.) 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. (D&C 121: 41-42.)
-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.