We see two topics attached to this hymn in the Holy Ghost and obedience. I was more than a little surprised not to find a third. Listen to the first verse and see if you can tell what the missing topic is:
Behold thy sons and daughters, Lord
On whom we lay our hands.
They have fulfilled the gospel word
And bowed at thy commands.
Obedience? Check. The Holy Ghost, too, as we lay our hands on our brothers and sisters to receive that gift. But when do we do that? Either at, or shortly after, our baptism.
I can understand why someone would choose not to categorize this hymn under “baptism,” since the ordinance is never mentioned in the lyrics. But we (or I, at least) so strongly associate receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost with baptism that I’m a little surprised it wasn’t mentioned. Doesn’t this seem like the sort of hymn you’d expect to hear at a baptism? Much of what we sing has to do not only with receiving the Holy Ghost, but with encouragement and exhortation to someone who has just come into the fold. In fact, that’s exactly the imagery used in the second verse:
Oh, now send down the heav’nly dove
And overwhelm their souls
With peace and joy and perfect love,
As lambs within thy fold.
Joining a new church is a significant change in anyone’s life. Not only are you pledging to live your life differently, but you’re choosing to join a new community and associate with new people. It’s daunting, particularly if you don’t know anyone already. The Holy Ghost helps with that, not only giving us gentle guidance on how to stay in line with the Lord’s teachings, but also in helping us to feel His love. This can take the form of peace in prayer, but it can also be felt as a reassurance that the handshake and words, “We’re really glad to have you here,” from a man you’ve never met do, in fact, come from the heart.
It’s easy to assume that those sorts of words and actions are empty, especially coming from a stranger. The Spirit can help us there, not only by softening our hearts and clearing our minds, but also by purifying us, making us more able to feel the love of God. The third verse tells us that when we do that, we will find ourselves “adopted in” to the fold. He seals us His as we allow His spirit to purify and cleanse us.
That’s a choice we have to make as much as anything else. The gift of the Holy Ghost is given to us, but when it is, we are commanded to receive it. There’s nothing passive about the process. We choose to receive the gift, allowing the Spirit access to our heart so that it can be purified. We show that we receive that gift from the Father by obeying His laws and keeping His commandments. We humble ourselves and submit ourselves to His will, which allows Him to work with us more easily and lessens any resistance to the purifying power of the Spirit.
It’s hard work. Being obedient is more than simply avoiding evil, it’s choosing to do (and be) good. We look for opportunities to serve others. We mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. We all commit to do this when we are baptized, but the fact that we’ve all made that commitment doesn’t make it any easier. The Holy Ghost helps, though, by comforting us as we try to comfort others:
Increase their faith, confirm their hope,
And guide them in the way.
With comfort bear their spirits up
Until the perfect day.
Once we choose to be baptized and to receive the Holy Ghost, we are all on the same path toward eternal life and a reunion with our Father in heaven. It’s a long path, and a difficult one. We’re all going to struggle, get exhausted, and occasionally wish we hadn’t chosen such a difficult journey. When we get tired, the Holy Ghost is there for us, bearing our spirits up. At some point, we will reach our destination and rejoice in that perfect day, but it’s still a long way off. Until that time, we have the Holy Ghost to walk the path with us, holding our hands each step of the way.
It’s a comforting thought, and an appropriate one to share with someone as they take their first steps along that path at baptism. The Father watches over all of us, whether we’ve been faithful to His gospel for decades or whether we’re just starting out, and He provides the same tools and help to each of us.