Angels, False Imprisonment, and the Story Behind "The Spirit of God"

Though the particular date it was written and the events that inspired "The Spirit of God" are unknown, there are many miraculous and incredible stories behind this beloved song and its author, William Wines Phelps, that have lead it to become one of the most recognizable and beloved Latter-day Saint hymns.

Here are five such remarkable stories and facts.

It preceded visions of angels, speaking in tongues, and many other miracles at the Kirtland Temple dedication.

Latter-day Saints were familiar with "The Spirit of God" before the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836, but it was during this event that the hymn gained a new level of sacred significance.

A thousand people stood outside the temple an hour before the doors even opened, anxious to see the Lord's first holy house dedicated in this dispensation. Sidney Rigdon stood to address the Saints for two and a half hours before Joseph Smith gave the historic dedicatory prayer, now recorded in section 109 of the Doctrine and Covenants. "The Spirit of God" was only one of three hymns, all written by W. W. Phelps, sung at the Kirtland Temple dedication that day, along with "Now Let Us Rejoice" and "Adam-ondi-Ahman."

During the dedication and these sacred experiences, Latter-day Saints testified of seeing angels crowning the temple, of hearing heavenly voices that pierced their hearts, of speaking in tongues or revealing incredible prophecies, and of witnessing healings, miracles, and visions. 

Later that evening, when Joseph Smith met with the priesthood quorums to give instruction, many more wonderful events transpired. About these sacred experiences the Prophet wrote, "George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place" (History of the Church, 2:428).

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An artist's rendering of the events in the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836, from ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

Visions and divine manifestations continued to grace the history of the Kirtland Temple as the Savior himself appeared at "five different meetings held in the temple, and visions were given to many of both the Father and the Son" (Mormon Channel, "W. W. Phelps, Episode 22"). 

The song originally had six stanzas.

When first penned by W. W. Phelps and printed in the 1835 hymn book, "The Spirit of God" had six verses. Yet, when the hymn was printed in the Deseret Sunday School, only three verses were included, and our current hymnbook contains only four of the six verses. So, why the omission?

The obscurity of these omitted verses seemed to distract from the main message of the hymn, making these stanzas less applicable to the Saints (Mormon Channel, "W. W. Phelps, Episode 22"). 

The following are the original fourth and fifth verses that were omitted from the hymnbook:

"We'll wash and be washed and with oil be anointed

Withal not omitting the washing of feet,

For he that receiveth his penny appointed

Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat.

"Old Israel, that flew from the world for his freedom,

Must come with the cloud and the pillar amain,

As Moses and Aaron, and Joshua lead him

And feed him on manna from heaven again."

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