Feeling the Spirit

21 May 2024 | Jane Gardner

By Jane M. Gardner 
presiding evangelist 

Emma Smith’s A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints was published in 1835, a few weeks before the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. The final hymn in her collection (text only) was “The Spirit of God like a Fire Is Burning,” written by W.W. Phelps. 

Phelps, who joined the early Latter Day Saints movement in 1831, had experience in journalism and an interest in political affairs. As the dedication of the temple approached, church leaders were together in the schoolhouse. It is reported that there was a rich endowment of the Spirit during their worship. Joseph Smith Jr. wrote: 

The gift of tongues came on us also, like the rushing of the mighty wind, and my soul was filled with the glory of God. 

They Sang of the Restoration,
Roy Cheville

Before the service ended, Phelps scribbled on an envelope the words of a hymn that caught the endowment of the Spirit they had experienced. 

The hymn originally had six stanzas, set to an old English tune, “Paraclete,” which appropriately means “Holy Spirit” or “Comforter.” M.C. Davis, the choir director for the temple dedication, taught the choir this new hymn. At the dedication in March 1836, Joseph Smith Jr. offered the dedicatory prayer: 

Hear us, O Lord and answer thee petitions, and accept the dedication of this house unto thee, the work of our hands, which we have built unto thy name… Help us by the power of thy Spirit, that we may mingle our voices with those bright seraphs around thy throne with acclamations of praise, singing hosanna to God and the Lamb; and let these thine anointed ones be clothed with salvation, and thy Saints shout aloud for joy. Amen and Amen. 

Cheville, pages 57–58 

Then the choir sang this hymn, which was a perfect counterpoint to Smith’s prayer. Finally, Sidney Rigdon offered a brief message to which the congregation spontaneously responded with joyful acclamation, and repeated, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb, Amen, Amen and Amen!” 

Since that moment, the hymn has been a favorite. According to Cheville: 

Our people do not use it to stir up a meeting; they sing it when a meeting has something of the atmosphere of the Kirtland dedication service. It is an affirmation that there is vital spiritual power in the Latter Day movement. 

In The Saints’ Hymnal of 1895 the following stanza was omitted: 

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. 

The Hymnal (1956) omitted two additional stanzas: 

Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom, 
Must come with the cloud and the pillar amain, 
A Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua lead him 
And feed him on mana from heaven again. 

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion 
Shall lie down together without any ire; 
And Ephraim be crowned with his blessings in Zion, 
As Jesus descends with his chariot of fire. 

Community of Christ Sings 384 has four stanzas, the first, second, and fourth stanzas are original to Phelps. The third stanza is a rewording of the final stanza found in Emma’s hymnal (as printed above). Andrew Bolton and Randall Pratt altered the stanza to speak more clearly to God’s call for peace as found in Isaiah 11:6. This adapted stanza was first sung at the 2002 World Conference. 

How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion 
shall lie down together in peace with a child. 
With one heart and mind may the Lord call us Zion: 
a people of justice, by God’s love inspired! 

This beloved hymn provides an important connection to our past. This amazing story of spiritual endowment continues to speak to us and is to be sung with full voice and passionate conviction! 

Previous Page