To Every Man is Given a Free Gift

In D&C 46:11 we read, “there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.” I’ve long taken that to mean that literally every person on earth has a spiritual gift, if they’ll hearken to the light of Christ. Often we don’t realize just how many gifts we are making use of until we’re released from a calling or if we get out of tune with the spirit. At that point skills and abilities we depended upon leave.

The question is, however, whether D&C 46:11 is speaking of all people[1] or just people in the Church. “Hearken, O ye people of my church” (1) Even relative to verse 11 we have “I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your aminds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.” Some read that to imply that the gifts spoken of are gifts to the Church and not a general statement about gifts.

I’ve long read it as a very broad claim and to note how the spirit works among non-members to either lead them to some portion of God’s word or to prepare them for the work in the spirit world. However it is undeniable that the section itself is addressed to the Church as a whole. The question is whether that particularly verse is so limited.

Elder Oaks, speaking in 1986, distinguished between spiritual gifts and “the Spirit of Christ, manifestations of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Oaks notes that there are manifestations we’d call gifts tied to each of these. As Moroni said, “all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.” (Moroni 10:17) Oaks ties different gifts to these distinctions. To him there are preparatory gifts and then spiritual gifts proper which require baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. This makes sense. The June 15, 1842 Times and Seasons editorial is usually attributed to Joseph Smith. There he wrote, “we also believe in prophecy, in tongues, in visions, and in revelation, in gifts and in healings; and that these things cannot be enjoyed without the gift of the Holy Ghost.” That certainly lines up more with D&C 46’s gifts only being for the Church (those confirmed and receiving the Holy Ghost).

The difficulty, as Elder Oaks notes, is that manifestations we’d call spiritual gifts come to those who have not received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Indeed a testimony is the best example and it usually comes prior to conversion and baptism. Likewise under the Law of Moses prior to the Day of Pentecost the gift of the Holy Ghost wasn’t given.[2] Going back to that statement of Moroni, it seems like God manifests his spirit in many people. The question thus becomes purely terminological. Do we call those gifts of the spirit or not?

What then of the “everyone has a free gift”? Whether we attribute it to the gift of the Holy Ghost or the light of Christ, that does seem something everyone has. Oaks seems to emphasize this, relying in large part on Moroni.

Moroni says that all spiritual gifts “come by the Spirit of Christ.” (Moro. 10:17.) The Spirit of Christ “giveth light to every man that cometh into the world.” (D&C 84:46.) It “is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.” (Moro. 7:16.) By this means every son and daughter of God has “the light” to judge what is right, and to seek to “lay hold upon every good thing.” (Moro. 7:18–19.) By this Spirit, all may seek to learn of God and to exercise faith in Him. Enlightened by this Spirit, all may seek spiritual gifts, which, Moroni says, “come unto every man severally, according as he will.” (Moro. 10:17.)

Moroni 10:17 seems the key scripture, and suggest that everyone receives spiritual gifts of some sort to direct us on our path. Whether we should read that in the similar passage in D&C 46 or not, it does seem true.

[1] I’ll just grant the linguistic use in the 19th century where man or mankind refers to all humans even if women and non-northern Europeans were often treated differently. So I’m assuming this means people. The question is whether it means people in the Church or all people. Elder Oaks, in one of his early talks, seems to assume it’s for the Church.

[2] We’ll leave the Nephites out of that as their priesthood and rites are a bit more complicated.

3 comments for “To Every Man is Given a Free Gift

  1. Awesome OP. I believe God gives knowledge and understanding to those who seek it, “by study and also by faith”(D&C 88). This knowledge may or may not be considered a spirtual gift, but I see it that way.

    I believe being an LDS member, or even being specifically religious, is not a prerequisite for understanding human phenomena, natural phenomena, what have you. But spiritual gifts have helped humans to this understanding through recorded history.

    For me, the Age of Reason may overlook the spiritual element in pursuit of knowledge, but since I see a large part of scientific understanding as emergent, not necessarily deliberately derived, scientists benefit from spiritual gifts as much as “true belivers.”

    I relate this directly to the core of the conversation and OP “Starting with faith.”
    I see no validity to rejecting spiritual/intellectual insight out of hand as having any spiritual component.

    I started thinking about a movie directed by Terry Gilliam, “The Brothers Grimm,” which featured a theme of magic realism vs the age of reason.

    I keep thinking that magic realism may be a more valid view of earthly existence than pure reason, if only because magic realism allows for uncertainty in human existence, and events that defy easy rational explanation.

    Spiritual gifts as a concept seem to fit into a view of magic realism better than the Greek/Roman definition of reason.

    Dialectical reasoning seems for me the kind of thinking that allows me, and all humans, to be a nexus for both earthly rationality and spiritual insight.

    Being a baptized part of God’s kingdom on earth seems a logical step toward thinking, and being, like God, as the Holy Ghost, along with grace, perform transformative work on humans toward ultimate transcendence.

    I don’t know if other LDS members see spiritual gifts this way, but I’m willing to give Elder Oakes, and other apostles, the benefit of the doubt.

  2. 1. Is “church” always used with the same meaning in the D&C? What of Section 10:67 “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” Does “cometh unto me” mean “join the LDS Church”? I think I have seen cases where it does not (both among LDS and non-LDS), but I don’t know what was intended by Section 10. Sometimes the D&C seems to use “church” referring clearly only to the then version of what we now think of as the LDS Church.
    2. Having both observed and read of numerous non-Mormons with various gifts of the spirit listed in Section 46, I would take that list as not limited to the LDS Church, even if JS were God’s stenographer and even if God were addressing the LDS Church (in its 1831 incarnation) by telling them that every man/person [and not just those who join the LDS Church] has a gift.
    3. Is the 1842 Times and Seasons editorial even using “gift of the Holy Ghost” in the same way the Church now uses it? Note that that editorial is very loose in its interchangeable use of “Holy Ghost” and “gift of the Holy Ghost”.

    I think we can sometimes get too wrapped up in trying to draw distinctions when our language and its use are not currently or historically fully consistent. Sometimes those distinctions are more prescriptive of how the speaker would like to have words used than they are descriptive of how they in fact have been used. I suspect most many LDS would be surprised, for example, at the explanations of apostle John Widtsoe of Spirit, Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Ether, Light of Christ, Spirit of Christ, Spirit of the Lord, etc. in the 1904 and 1909 Improvement Era.

    To some it seems foolish to let the English language adoption of both the Germanic word Geist/ghost and the Romance language word spirit/espirit/spiritus lead us to think there is any difference between Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost. I think I recall reading that there are no two such words/distinction in the Hebrew or Greek of the bible.

  3. I think in D&C 10 the presumption is that to come to Christ is to be baptized with authority and receive the Holy Ghost. Now I fully think God can direct people outside of the Church. But at some point to “come unto Christ” requires authority.

    I do agree that we have to accept spiritual gifts outside of the Church. That seems to be what Elder Oaks is getting at with Moroni, although he then makes semantic distinctions.

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