In many ways, Doctrine and Covenants 8 is the story of the one man's spiritual gifts. Oliver Cowdery is given two powerful gifts of the Spirit: the spirit of revelation and the related gift of Aaron. The Lord would later tell Joseph Smith, "seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given...for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God" (DC 46:8,11). The gifts given to Oliver Cowdery are particularly instructive because through him we see what happens both when we magnify the gifts given to us and when we fail to use them. Oliver would utilize the gift of Aaron, becoming the spokesman for Joseph Smith in the early days of the church, but he failed to use the spirit of revelation (with respect to the translation of ancient documents) because he did not follow the Lord's admonition to 'apply unto it' (v. 3, see also DC 9). The same principle applies to us. When we bury our talents, we lose the gifts that God has given us.
DC 8:1 you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records
The opportunities and blessing given to Oliver Cowdery are truly remarkable. The Lord knew that Joseph Smith would be the seer to bring forth the Book of Mormon (2 Ne 3:11-13). But when Oliver Cowdery asks in faith to translate, his request is granted. The Lord is "no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34) and is willing to give revelation to all who have the faith to receive it. In order to translate the Book of Mormon or to bring forth other ancient scriptures, Oliver would need the spirit of revelation whereby he could act as a seer. To the extent that Oliver could translate, he would be made a seer which is even greater than a prophet (Mosiah 8:15). The Lord is happy to give him that gift. Ultimately Oliver's attempts to translate would fail (see DC 9), but it is interesting that you don't see Joseph Smith getting all upset that someone is treading on his prophetic turf. His spirit was too generous for such pettiness. His attitude was like that of Moses, "would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them" (Num. 11:29).
DC 8:2 I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost
When the Holy Ghost speaks, our minds may be struck with insight and clarity akin to sudden light. At the same time, our hearts may burn or we may feel flooded with joy or deep gratitude or love. Whatever particular feelings occur, they occur simultaneously in the mind and in the heart.
Some common expressions investigators often use during missionary lessons are "That makes sense," "I've always believed that," "Of course." Sometimes, it may be a simple affirmative nod. At these times, the investigators are experiencing "enlightenment." When we recognize the truth through the Spirit, we understand things-they become clear to us. As the Lord promised, "I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind." (D&C 11:13.)
That feeling of understanding is always accompanied by some type of positive emotion. In the scripture just cited, after the words "enlighten your mind," the Lord adds the phrase "which shall fill your soul with joy." Alma describes this process of enlightenment and its effect on those who experience it:
"We will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say ... It beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me." (Alma 32:28; italics added.)
Not only is our understanding affected, but our souls seem to expand-the whole experience is delicious to us. ("Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit?" Ensign, Apr. 1989, 22-23)
Boyd K. Packer
The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. It is described as a "still small voice." And while we speak of "listening" to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, "I had a feeling ..."
...Revelation comes as words we feel more than hear. Nephi told his wayward brothers, who were visited by an angel, "Ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words."
The scriptures are full of such expressions as "The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened," or "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart," or "I did enlighten thy mind," or "Speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts." There are hundreds of verses which teach of revelation.
President Marion G. Romney, quoting the prophet Enos, said, "While I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind." Enos then related what the Lord put into his mind.
"This," President Romney said, "is a very common means of revelation. It comes into one's mind in words and sentences. With this medium of revelation I am personally well acquainted."
We do not seek for spectacular experiences. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the many who "have no ear for spiritual messages ... when they come in common dress. ... Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication." ("Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign, Nov. 1994, 60)
DC 8:3 this is the spirit of revelation
A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, 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. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 151.)
Spencer W. Kimball
Of all things, that for which we should be most grateful today is that the heavens are indeed open and that the restored church of Jesus Christ is founded upon the rock of revelation. Continuous revelation is indeed the very lifeblood of the gospel of the living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. ("Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets," Ensign, May 1977, 76)
DC 8:3 this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground
A fellow missionary once asked the author the meaning of this verse. "How is it that Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea by the spirit of revelation?" Implicit in the question was the idea that it should have been faith and the priesthood which parted the waters not the spirit of revelation.
Certainly, the spirit of revelation was not the only operative force in the great miracle that happened. But it was the primary operative force behind Moses' leadership of the children of Israel. When the children of Israel were trapped between the Red Sea and the armies of Egypt, how did Moses know to take them through the sea? Without the spirit of revelation, how would Moses have known that the Lord would part the waters when he stretched his hand and staff over them? How would he know where to lead them through the wilderness? How does any prophet of God know how to lead the people unless it is by the spirit of revelation?
George Q. Cannon
The same Spirit of revelation that Moses had...has rested upon men that have held the keys of this kingdom, whether it was during President [Brigham] Young's life or at the present time-that same Spirit of revelation rests upon him who holds the presidency as senior apostle in the midst of the people of God. The apostles of this Church have all the authority, they have all the keys, and it is within the purview of their office and calling to have all the Spirit of revelation necessary to lead this people into the presence of the Lamb in the celestial kingdom of our God. . . . (JD, November 1879, 21:264, 268, 270, 271.) (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 1: 81 - 82.)
Spencer W. Kimball
I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, and light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption.
Man never needs to stand alone. Every faithful person may have the inspiration for his own limited kingdom. But the Lord definitely calls prophets today and reveals his secrets unto them as he did yesterday, he does today, and will do tomorrow: that is the way it is. ("Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets," Ensign, May 1977, 78)
DC 8:6 the gift of Aaron
Joseph Fielding Smith
There was another gift bestowed upon Oliver Cowdery, and that was the gift of Aaron. Like Aaron with his rod in his hand going before Moses as a spokesman, so Oliver Cowdery was to go before Joseph Smith. Whatever he should ask the Lord by power of this gift should be granted if asked in faith and in wisdom. Oliver was blessed with the great honor of holding the keys of this dispensation with Joseph Smith, and like Aaron [Ex. 4:10-17], did become a spokesman on numerous occasions. It was Oliver who delivered the first public discourse in this dispensation.(Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 1: 82.)
DC 8:8 you shall hold it in your hands
How could Oliver Cowdery hold the gift of Aaron in his hands? A review of the first edition of the Book of Commandments makes this verse more clear. In the original, the preceding verses read as follows:
"Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God." (Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign, Feb. 1985, 20)
Certainly, Oliver could have held this rod (symbolic of the rod of Aaron and the gift of Aaron) in his hands. Unfortunately, more information about this rod is no longer available. It would seem that Oliver was in possession of a rod-an instrument for divining the Lord's will which worked much like a Urim and Thummim. The possession of such a rod explains why the next verse says, 'you shall hold it in your hands...and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands.'
"It seems evident that the Lord entrusted Oliver with a sacred instrument through which he could translate by the Spirit of revelation... Having received instructions on the use of the sacred instrument which he possessed, Oliver Cowdery sought to translate from the Plates of Mormon, probably through the instrument which had been entrusted into his care. But he failed." (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1967], 6.)
The next obvious question is, "why was the text altered from the original revelation?" Brigham Young explained why some alterations were made in the Book of Commandments:
"When revelations are given through an individual appointed to receive them, they are given to the understandings of the people. These revelations, after a lapse of years, become mystified to those who were not personally acquainted with the circumstances at the time they were given." (Journal of Discourses, 3:333.)
Melvin J. Petersen wrote, "The meaning of this revelation as recorded in the Book of Commandments and in the Doctrine and Covenants is not clear. History does not record that Oliver Cowdery or anyone else living at the time it was given had a problem understanding it, but today some of the revelation (as given in the original) is unclear to us." (Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign, Feb. 1985, 20)
Accordingly, when the text of the revelation was prepared for review in 1835, it was altered. But who changed it? Both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were part of the "committee to revise the Book of Commandments when the wording of this 1829 revelation was changed." ("The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching" by Richard Lloyd Anderson Fn, BYU Studies, vol. 24 (1984), Number 4 - Fall 1984)
DC 8:10 ask in faith
Boyd K. Packer
The flow of revelation depends on your faith. You exercise faith by causing, or by making, your mind accept or believe as truth that which you cannot, by reason alone, prove for certainty.
The first exercising of your faith should be your acceptance of Christ and His atonement.
As you test gospel principles by believing without knowing, the Spirit will begin to teach you. Gradually your faith will be replaced with knowledge.
You will be able to discern, or to see, with spiritual eyes.
Be believing and your faith will be constantly replenished, your knowledge of the truth increased, and your testimony of the Redeemer, of the Resurrection, of the Restoration will be as "a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life." You may then receive guidance on practical decisions in everyday life. ("Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign, Nov. 1994, 61)
John K. Carmack
Oliver Cowdery thought he could translate under the flickering light of a candle. The Lord instructed him, "Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith." (D&C 8:10.)
Past priesthood leaders such as Peter, Paul, Joseph, and Brigham accomplished amazing results in their callings. How? They all did it with faith. They had no computers or fax machines. Their power depended on faith. Jesus often answered pleas for his miraculous intervention, "According to your faith be it unto you." (See Matt. 9:29; Matt 15:28.)
Rather than relying on faith, we are tempted to stay with the comfortable and tangible tools of our temporal lives to accomplish priesthood callings. The Church has also provided some tools. These tools are useful...Add faith, however, and priesthood service becomes magnificent. Two candles suddenly burst into four hundred watts of light. More to the point, we tap into the Lord's power source, and our actions move in rhythm with His. The Lord compensates for our deficiencies. Vast, unseen reservoirs of dynamic power supply our needs. ("Faith Yields Priesthood Power," Ensign, May 1993, 41-42)
DC 8:10 do not ask for that which you ought not
"We must be careful not to 'ask for that which [we] ought not' (D&C 8:10). Sometimes we ask for things that would not be in our best interest. In such cases the Lord is being very kind when he doesn't grant our requests. But when we want something badly, we often times don't hear any answer other than the answer we want. And since the Lord isn't going to give us something he knows would be harmful for us, we think he isn't answering us at all." (Lindsay R. Curtis, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Jan. 1980, 50)
Neal A. Maxwell
Instructive, indeed, is that circumstance in which the believing mother of James and John unmeekly pressed the Savior in behalf of her sons, hoping they might later sit on his right hand and on his left. Jesus did not indignantly reprove the worshipful and good mother. Rather, He spoke truthfully to her, saying she did not realize what she asked. He noted that this particular decision was His Father's anyway...The mother's petition resembled so many of our prayers. We do not realize the implications of what we ask. We ask amiss and then wonder why such petitions are not granted precisely as submitted. (3 Nephi 18:20; 2 Nephi 4:35; James 4:3.) (Meek and Lowly [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1987], 10.)