Wouldn’t it be great if every enemy of the Church was visited by an angel of the Lord and commanded to repent? Many of the rebellious have required a sign of the Lord. They argue that they will not believe unless an angel appears unto them to tell them what to do. Yet, the persecutors have been rebuked by an angel in only two instances, that of Alma and Saul of Tarsus. The similarities are striking but there are also differences. Alma and his brethren should have known better. They were in a state of rebellion against parents, church, and God. On the other hand, Paul thought he was doing the Lord’s work. Always a zealot, he was trying to purge Judaism of the new threat brought on by the followers of Jesus. Yet, in both instances, the visitation causes a great change in the hearts of the persecutors. In a miraculous way, they became great missionaries for the Lord.
What does this tell us about such divine interventions? The Lord doesn’t send an angel to rebuke every rebellious soul because many of these would still not repent even if they saw an angel. The witness of the Holy Ghost is more powerful than the visitation of an angel. Heber J. Grant taught, “Many men say: ’If I could only see an angel, if I could only hear an angel proclaim something, that would cause me to be faithful all the days of my life!’ It had no effect upon these men that were not serving the Lord, and it would have no effect today.” (Conference Reports, Apr. 1924, p. 159) An example of this is seen in the life of Lyman Johnson.
“Lyman Johnson…reportedly apostatized after having seen an angel…’I remember hearing President Snow say on more than one occasion,’ recalled Mathias Cowley, ’how determined Lyman E. Johnson was to see an angel from the Lord. He plead [sic] with and teased the Lord to send an angel to him until he saw an angel; but President Snow said the trouble with him was that he saw an angel one day and saw the devil the next day, and finally the devil got away with him.’26” (FARMS, vol. 2, no. 2-Fall 1993, p. 171)
“Brigham Young said, ’Pray that you never see an angel.’ He was talking historically. Almost everybody who saw an angel left the Church. They came back, but they had these terrible problems. It gave them inflated egos, etc. They thought they were somebody special. They were, but they couldn’t take it. It would be very dangerous if we were exposed to the other world to any degree. Only people that are very humble can do that. Not us, we can’t do that. We are not that humble.” (The Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 41, p.193)
“…the Lord never did nor never will send an angel to anybody merely to gratify the desire of the individual to see an angel. If the Lord sends an angel to anyone, He sends him to perform a work that cannot be performed only by the administration of an angel. I said to him that those were my views. The Lord had sent angels to men from the creation of the world, at different times, but always with a message or with something to perform that could not be performed without.” (Collected Discourses 1886-1898, ed. by Brian Stuy, vol. 5, Wilford Woodruff, Oct. 19, 1896)
“If the purpose of miracles is to convert, then Jesus wasted his miracles all on believers…To impress people with miracles is one thing; to give them a testimony of the gospel another. As the experience of the Apostles showed, if people will not accept the gospel by the word without miracles, they will not accept it with miracles: ’If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead’ (Luke 16:31).” (The World and the Prophets, p. 140-1)