One doubt that I frequently encounter among those who have lost faith that this Church is being led by Christ through continuing revelation Is that we have not received a canonized revelation in several decades and that the Prophets after Joseph Smith have on the whole received very few revelations. I came across a very interesting quote in a talk given by Bruce R. McConkie to the Sperry Symposium which sheds some light on why this is so. The quote is lengthy, but I am going to quote it in full and then I will address some of the insights it provides.
We have not received, by any means, all of the word of the Lord. I think we have received most of the word of the Lord that is required until the Second Coming. The Lord has given all that people in the world have the spiritual capacity to receive at this time. There is going to be another great dispensation—that is, another great period of enlightenment—when He comes. At that time He will reveal all things, such as the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. But He will not reveal the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon now, or let us publish it to the world because what it contains is so far beyond the spiritual capacity of men that it would drive people away from the truth rather than lead them to the truth. Actually, it is an act of mercy for the Lord to limit, to a particular people, the amount of revelation they receive.
We are now in a glorious dispensation in which we have received substantially all of the revelations we are able to bear; it is true, however, that if we were able to unite and have faith, we would get more. That is one of the things that was involved in 1978 when President Kimball received the revelation that the gospel and all of its blessings (the priesthood and the ordinances of the house of the Lord) were now to go to those of every race and kindred and tongue without any reservation except that people live in righteousness and be worthy to receive what is offered to them. That new revelation came in large measure because the prophet of God and those associated with him united in faith and in prayer and in desire, and sought for an answer from the Lord. There are added revelations we could receive, and I hope we will receive, as we manage to get in tune with the Spirit. But the great reservoir of revelation for our dispensation—meaning the things that we need to know to govern our conduct in order to gain an eternal life—these things have already been given. And there will not be great added reservoirs of substantive revelation that will come before the Second Coming because of the wickedness of the world. Some of that wickedness spills over and prevails among the Latter-day Saints. But eventually, there will be a day of great added revelation.
1) We have already received “substantially all of the revelations we are able to bear” and “the things that we need to know to govern our conduct in order to gain an eternal life.”
There was a great outpouring of revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith which was needed in order to 1) dispel false teachings that had been taught through more than a millennia of Apostasy 2) lay down the foundation or constitution for Christ’s Church on the earth in this dispensation. Today, we have before us that great foundation. We should not expect great revelations on matters of doctrine because all of the doctrines needed for our eternal salvation have already been revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.
As Elder McConkie says, this is a “glorious dispensation” where great eternal truths have been revealed that were withheld from the foundation of the world. Ours is the generation of great temple work, and of missionary work across the word. We have already received and in abundance.
Most importantly, the foundation of the Church allows for revelation to appear in even the mundane and routine decisions of the church. Revelation is not found in spectacular declarations of truth, but in the direction given to Apostles, Stake Presidents, Bishops and to each of us on how to lead the Lord’s Church. These revelations are not as grandious as the Joseph Smith’s vision of the three degrees of glory, but they are equally important for the furthering of the work of the Lord.
2) Revelations are blessings that come when we as a Church and a people are righteous and living up to the commandments already given
As we read in the Doctrine and Covenatns: Blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength.
And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time. [D&C 59:3–4]
Revelations are blessings that come to those who obey the Gospel and are working to bring forth Zion. We cannot expect to receive more revelations when we are still currently falling so short of our current ones. The reason that those in General Conference still need to preach about the Word of Wisdom or the Law of Tithing is that so many members of the Church do not live these simple commandments. If we are not living up to our privilege, why do we expect to receive more?
3) With revelation comes responsibility. Revelation comes line upon line when we are ready for it
God prevents us from receiving revelation at times because we are not ready or prepared to follow through or act upon that revelation. There have been times in our history when we have seen that revelation from God was not received by a willing or ready people. For instance, we failed to live the true law of consecration and instead now have the law of tithing along with a covenant or promise that we are willing to live the law of consecration. Likewise, the Word of Wisdom when first received was given as advice or counsel rather than a commandment because that generation was not yet ready to live it fully. Once the people of the Church were prepared to keep the Word of Wisdom as a commandment, it was revealed through the leadership of the Church that it should be so. Some take this pattern as an excuse to sin. If something is not formally a commandment they feel free to disregard it. Yet, this is a gross error that leads many astray.
4) There is yet more revelation that we will receive, but the reception of those revelations depends primarily upon our unity and willingness to listen and act
As Elder McConkie wrote: “There are added revelations we could receive, and I hope we will receive, as we manage to get in tune with the Spirit”
The scriptures are full of verses where the Lord speaks of his work being “cut short in righteousness.” (D&C 109:59; D&C 84:97; D&C 52:11; Romans 9:28). I think this is an important principle that we do not pay enough attention to. Our choices, our faith, and our righteousness make a difference in the unfolding of the Lord’s work. That’s why we refer to hastening the work. When we as a people are righteousness and harkening to the commandments of God, he is able to fulfil his work and gives new light and revelation
I found McConkie’s example of the Priesthood revelation to be quite revealing. He is suggesting that the revelation possibly could have been received earlier had we been unified and willing to seek it. Yet, the key to that revelation was also unity. The people of the Church had to be united in seeking the will of God. Neither advocacy nor agitation was ultimately sufficient to bring about revelation, and perhaps might have hindered the process of revelation by impeding on the unity needed.
If we ever wonder when we will next receive a revelation on par with the vision of the three degrees of glory in D&C 76, we should first ensure that we are grateful for the revelation and insight already given. Next, we should turn inward and question how well we are living within the revelations and commandments already given. We should also seek for unity and truly attempt to establish Zion in our hearts and communities. That includes zealously following the things that have already been revealed to us. If we do so, the heavens will open both for us personally and for the Church collectively.