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Thomas Paine on Revelation


Chris Smith

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I ran across this from Thomas Paine, and it struck me as something that might interest my Mormon friends.

As it is necessary to affix right ideas to words, I will, before I proceed further into the subject, offer some other observations on the word revelation. Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication

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Hi, Chris.

I agree with the principle as modified when it refers to instructions intended for all of God' children. God reveals his purposes to his servants and the rest of us can and should receive a witness that the message is correct. Other than not receiving an answer, I think some interesting permutations may arise from the following:

1. Instructions that are individual and not universal may be very different than revelation that others receive. They may, in fact, be contradictory.

2. I think we sometimes add assumption to revelation which can complicate things: "I was told to do x and it must be because . . ."

Regards

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Chris,

I agree with Paine on everything except just one point: he makes the assumption that, if you receive a revelation, you are obligated to believe it.

What does this mean? That you have no basis for rejecting it? That you have no doubt whatsoever that the communication was divine in origin? That you understand perfectly what it means? His definition of revelation is incomplete, in my opinion.

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I suppose that the biggest difficulty with Paine's case is how to verify which of your experiences constitute revelation and which do not.

One isn't obliged to believe a revelation given directly to them, either. Paul had every right to conclude he was delusional (Acts 9), but ti would have been to his detriment.

It is good for us to believe in revelations we receive, especially if we seek them. The way to verify a revelation to oneself is to assess if it is real per Alma's method in Alma 32, or Jesus' method in John 7:17. In some cases one can employ D&C 6:21-24.

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One isn't obliged to believe a revelation given directly to them, either. Paul had every right to conclude he was delusional (Acts 9), but ti would have been to his detriment.

It is good for us to believe in revelations we receive, especially if we seek them. The way to verify a revelation to oneself is to assess if it is real per Alma's method in Alma 32, or Jesus' method in John 7:17. In some cases one can employ D&C 6:21-24.

Thanks CV75, excellent references. About a year ago I received a "false" revelation. It had never happened before (to my knowledge), and has never happened again since then.

I was drifting off to sleep well past midnight, having stayed up way too late and being utterly exhausted (not a good start, you'll agree!). I suddenly started thinking about my younger brother, who is almost 30 and still single, and the bizarre notion that he was engaged became part of my thinking. I was vaguely aware that this thought was merely a wish. As I thought about who he was marrying, a young single sister of the ward came into my mind. I had been thinking about that sister as a potential suitor for my brother for a while, so that made sense.

As soon as I "decided" that it was her to whom my brother was engaged, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of happiness and rejoicing for my brother, it felt like an answer, like a divine prompting.

Then something really bizarre happened.

I had a doubt. I thought "No, it couldn't be her..."

Immediately as I thought this, I heard, distinctly in my mind, a short chord as if sung by a very large choir, the type of sound you typically hear on TV when a divine announcement or event is shown. The sound stopped as suddenly as it had started, and then I heard the following words, as if a voice was speaking in my head:

"Trust in my counsel!" (except the voice was in French, which makes sense since I am French and was living in France then)

Then something else was said, which I didn't understand. And finally the words:

"It doesn't cost anything".

That was the end of the "bizarre" part. The voice sounded like a playback from a recorded message, with some static noise, and slightly muffled, with a lot of reverberation.

Then I came to my senses. I guess I woke up. Adrenaline was rushing in my blood, I was convinced I had just heard God speaking to me, even though nothing of the sort had ever happened to me before. Yet there was a nagging feeling, on the back of my mind, that something wasn't quite right.

Once I got over the initial rush of excitement, I started to think back about the details of the experience. My first thought was: "Why would God speak to me this way, when He knows perfectly well that I am receptive to the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost and to subtle, symbolic dreams?".

Then I reflected on the music, the strange "recorded" quality of the voice, the part of the message I didn't understand etc. These details were not consistent with the things I had learned about revelation, from my study and from my past experiences. I then thought about the usual pattern of revelation:

  1. Revelations usually come after pondering gospel principles and truths, and studying the scriptures
  2. They always include the feelings of the Spirit (peace, gentleness, happiness etc.)
  3. They invite to do something, explicitly or implicitly
  4. They fall within my realm of responsibility
  5. They are clear and unmistakable

However, as recorded by Nephi, it is possible to miss certain details during a vision. Lehi missed the fact that the river running along side the path was filthy, because he was absorbed in other details.

But in my bizarre experience of that night, none of these 5 points were present! The message, although good advice (perhaps), didn't tell me what to do. It was showing me who my brother should marry and telling me to trust his counsel. Whose counsel? Why? What am I supposed to do about it?

At this point in my reflections, I decided that this did not come from God. The "communication" did not pass the test. It may have come from Satan, although I fail to see for what purpose. I am more enclined to believe that it was an auditory hallucination due to lack of sleep.

Sorry for rambling on about this, but I thought it was relevant to the point raised about how to know whether a communication is a true revelation or not.

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  1. Revelations usually come after pondering gospel principles and truths, and studying the scriptures
  2. They always include the feelings of the Spirit (peace, gentleness, happiness etc.)
  3. They invite to do something, explicitly or implicitly
  4. They fall within my realm of responsibility
  5. They are clear and unmistakable

Thank you for the practical summary!

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This is one of those topics debated extensively on this board for obvious reasons. My own view is that personal spiritual experiences may under certain circumstances be used as personal instruction. I do not believe personal spiritual experiences are a reliable means to determine universal objective truth things like is the BOM historical or which church has exclusive authority or what the afterlife consists of. At this point I have debated this enough I am not sure I want to devote a significant amount of time going over this yet again. Sufficient to say there are strong arguments refuting the idea personal spiritual experiences are a reliable means to gain universal objective truth. Here is a recent thread discussing this issue:

http://www.mormonapologetics.org/topic/47514-weighing-testimony-against-evidence/page__st__40

All the Best,

Uncertain

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