It was remarked about Joseph Smith by Apostle George A. Smith that,”there is no point upon which the Prophet Joseph dwelt more than discerning of Spirits.”
Why did Joseph focus and instruct so intently on the discerning of spirits and bringing to light all matter of false spirits and counterfeits? Because when one embarks on the straight and narrow path to receive further light and truth, the vast majority of that path is learning how to overcome all false spirits and adversarial influences.
Joseph taught repeatedly that if a person was to overcome a false spirit, they “needed intelligence which God alone could impart to detect false spirits, and to prove what spirits were of God.”
And he gives a good example as to why:
“The Egyptians were not able to discover the difference between the miracles of Moses and those of the magicians until they came to be tested together; and if Moses had not appeared in their midst they would unquestionably have thought that the miracles of the magicians were performed through the mighty power of God; for they were great miracles that were performed by them: a supernatural agency was developed; and great power manifested.“
So this leads us to ask an important question: Is it really by their fruits that we test spirits and the teachings of people?
What if the Egyptians relied on the fruits of the magicians to detect them?
Consider this experience by Joseph Smith AFTER he had already been in the presence of both the Father and the Son.
Michael the angel had to intercede on Joseph’s behalf when Satan appeared as an angel of light. Presumably, Joseph didn’t detect him and needed the intervention of a more powerful angel to come and help him. Even after he’d experienced manifestations of glory he was not sufficiently prepared to detect all deception.
What if Joseph had waited to see the fruits of the Satanic angel of light before he detected him? How long would those fruits take to make manifest?
In the presentation of the endowment one of the major themes is the interaction with Lucifer. When Adam was calling upon God it is Lucifer that shows up first. Later, it is Peter, James, and John that has to cast out Lucifer on Adam and Eve’s befalf, so that Adam and Eve could receive the keys of how to detect Lucifer and his ministers for themselves.
He who had been the “Light-Bearer” is uniquely capable of counterfeiting Christ himself.
In light of this, there are many that reject the signs and tokens of the priesthood as a matter of detection. Rather, they depend on this ostensible method of detection of testing the fruits.
The problem with this is that fruit takes time, sometimes a long time, to be made manifest. It has to gestate. If we wait for the fruit to ripen in order to test a teacher or a spirit, by the time their fruit is made manifest it can be far too late.
So, how do we then understand what the Lord was teaching us in 3 Nephi 14 when he teaches the following?
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.”
What is fruit? In the scriptures it can represent a few different things, but what it most often represents is people.
Your fruits are your children. Spiritually speaking, your fruit are those people that follow your teachings; those you birth into a spiritual structure.
A false prophet/teacher will birth fruit, or followers, and by the followers of a teacher you may know the truthfulness of a teacher or prophet in the long run. What kind of people are they producing? What fruit are they producing? What is the nature of those children?
We may know a prophet/teacher by his fruits (when the fruit fully ripens), but we can’t discern a prophet/teacher by his fruits.
These verses by the Savior are speaking of people (children) as the type of fruit. Does the teacher produce Children of Christ, or Children of the Devil?
We know this because Christ invokes the language of the allegory of the Olive tree. The Lord says, “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
This is the same pattern of work he describes in Jacob 5. If the tree in the vineyard brings forth evil fruit, the tree itself is burned up by the Lord. The fruit of the tree are the types of people being produced.
So, we don’t discern false teachings by fruit unless the fruit has had ample time to ripen. The same way the Lord has to give time in Jacob 5 to see the fruit being manifest, we should understand that it can take considerable time for fruit (people) to ripen.
So, how do we discern?
Joseph taught this principle with precision.
We test the spiritual manifestation by the spirit and we test the physical manifestations by signs and tokens of the priesthood.
Spiritual manifestations, it should be warned, can be so sophisticated that spiritual discernment is not just a matter of “feeling good about it.”
He taught that we must gain intelligence from God through the power and revelation of the spirit to detect all of the variety of ways false spirits can be made manifest.
Who can drag into day-light and develope the hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-Day Saints?
We answer that no man can do this without the Priesthood, and having a knowledge of the laws by which spirits are governed; for as, “no man knows the things of God but by the spirit of God,” so no man knows the spirit of the devil and his power and influence but by possessing intelligence which is more than human, and having unfolded through the medium of the Priesthood the mysterious operations of his devices; without knowing the angelic form, the sanctified look, and gesture, and the zeal that is frequesntly manifested by him for the glory of God:—together with the prophetic spirit, the gracious influence, the godly appearance, and the holy garb which is so characteristic of his proceedings, and his mysterious windings.
A man must have the discerning of spirits, before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors: for nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit, when they think they have the Spirit of God.“
“… all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery? “Try the spirits,” says John, but who is to do it?..
Try the spirits;” but what by? are we to try them by the creeds of men? what preposterous folly, what sheer ignorance, what madness. Try the motions and actions of an eternal being, (for I contend that all spirits are such,) by a thing that was conceived in ignorance, and brought forth in folly,—a cobweb of yesterday. Angels would hide their faces, and devils would be ashamed and insulted and would say, “Paul we know, and Jesus we know, but who are ye?” Let each man or society make a creed and try evil spirits by it and the devil would shake his [p. 743] sides, it is all that he would ask, a[l]l that he would desire. Yet many of them do this and hence “many spirits are abroad in the world.” One great evil is that men are ignorant of the nature of spirits; their power, laws, government, intelligence &c., and imagine that when there is any thing like power, revelation, or vision manifested that it must be of God: a manifestation of what?—is there any intelligence communicated? are the curtains of heaven withdrawn, or the purposes of God developed? have they seen and conversed with an angel; or have the glories of futurity burst upon their view? No!…
Every one of these professes to be competent to try his neighbour’s spirit, but no one can try his own, and what is the reason? because they have not a key to unlock, no rule wherewith to measure, and no criterion whereby they can test it; could any one tell the length, breadth, or height of a building without a rule? test the quality of metals without a criterion, or point out the movements of the planetary system without a knowledge of astronomy? certainly not: and if such ignorance as this is manifested about a spirit of this kind who can describe an angel of light, if Satan should appear as one in glory? Who can tell his color, his signs, his appearance, his glory? or what is the manner of his manifestation?”
Joseph shares this interesting account:
“There have also been ministering angels in the church which were of satan appearing as an angel of light:—A sister in the State of New York had a vision who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods an angel would appear to her,—she went at the appointed time and saw a glorious personage descending arrayed in white, with sandy coloured hair; he commenced and told her to fear God and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth; and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage and many things that were false.— How it may be asked was this known to be a bad angel? by the color of his hair; that is one of the signs that he can be known by, and by his contradicting a former revelation.“
So Joseph gives an important key that a true angel would not contradict a former revelation.
There are some in our association of friends that profess revelations that contradict or invite them to break eternal covenants. This is a sure sign of deception.
A repeated pattern in our community of friends goes like this; a person will have a false experience, confuse it or believe it to be their calling and election made sure. Then they are “commanded” to break a covenant (usually chastity) and believe they are authorized to do so by virtue of their false Second Comforter experience. They also convince others to believe them because of their professes spiritual stature.
The truth of the matter is that the Lord usually tests them to see if they will detect false revelations and keep the terms of their covenants to prepare them for the higher revelation. This was the case of King David.
Few are as favored by the Lord as David. Even yet, the Lord withheld from him the blessings of the Fulness of the Priesthood most likely because he knew of David’s weakness.
The Lord in mercy does not give higher blessings if he knows there is a high degree of risk that we will become perdition. David is not in perdition for that very reason.
A sign that there is a deceiver in the our community is that they engage sexually outside of the covenant and then declare their status with God gives them the right to do so.
The sign of this type of deceiver is that he contradicts a former revelation, and then bears the fruit of his deceived state: his followers will also inevitably break eternal laws of chastity.
But what about Abraham? Wasn’t he commanded to break a former revelation of not to kill?
It wasn’t a murder. It was a commandment to offer up the first fruits of the field. He was to tithe his firstborn. He was fulfilling the law of sacrifice in the commandment to offer up his firstborn. It did not contradict a former commandment, but tested Abraham with a higher covenant structure. He learned to sacrifice in the manner of God the Father.
So, we can know false teachers by their fruits. But we discern them by the knowledge and revelations of the priesthood.
Those that mistakenly believe they have had a Second Comforter experience by virtue of a dream or vision must overcome the deceptions associates with those experiences.
It is true that a person can see or experience Christ in a vision, and if it is a true vision, they can anticipate a certain type of temptation: that a false spirit or a false teacher will then teach them that they have had the Second Comforter.
They will be taught that they are sealed up to eternal life. And this is a great deception.
Moses experiences this pattern. He was brought into the presence of the Lord. He received his Second Comforter. He had not yet received the fullness of the priesthood and had to be tested accordingly. Satan then immediately manifested to him to teach him and Moses had to detect him by revelation and contrast to the experience he had with the Father. He was successful in rejecting the counterfeit and was thus prepared to receive the sealing power.
One of the reasons why it is such a powerful deception to believe that you’ve received your Second Comforter blessings if you experience Christ in a vision or a dream is that they cease preparing themselves to discern greater manifestations of deception because they already believe they are sealed up to eternal life. And because of this they fall into inevitable traps.
It is often the case they seek to consume on their lusts things such as sex, power, and notoriety due to their false experience.
These deceivers are everywhere. They occupy corners and platforms throughout the church.
They seek to bring others into the same deceptive structures of which they belong.
Someone who is under the influence of a false spirit can not help but to manifest that spirit by teaching the deceptions they have accepted.
As one enters into a deceived state they cannot help but to also be taught by the Adversary how to deceive others. When Eve was beguiled and partook of the fruit, Satan also taught her to then give it to Adam.
Likewise, we can detect the types of deceptions one is under by the exact way they seek to deceive others. The Adversary can’t help but to leave his fingerprints.
If we are faithful to the injunction to repent and work out our salvation with fear and trembling we can joyfully rely on the promise of D&C 50:
And by giving heed and doing these things which ye have received, and which ye shall hereafter receive–and the kingdom is given you of the Father, and power to overcome all things which are not ordained of him-