Temple Dedication Hymn: “The Spirit of God”
William Wines Phelps, born February 17, 1792, in Hanover, New Jersey, wrote “The Spirit of God.” Phelps has a storied history with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that traces back to April 9, 1830. After purchasing a copy of the Book of Mormon from Parley P. Pratt, he spent many hours discussing and learning about the Church. Just over a year later, in June of 1831, he came to Kirtland, Ohio, where he met with Joseph Smith and asked him for a revelation. When the Prophet sought the Lord for information concerning Phelps, section 55 of the Doctrine and Covenants was recorded.
After being baptized, he left two days later to preach the gospel. He later said of his conversion: “Now, notwithstanding my body was not baptized into this Church until June 1831, yet my heart was there from the time I became acquainted with the Book of Mormon and my hope steadfast like an anchor and my faith increased like the grass after a refreshing shower when I for the first time held a conversion with our beloved Brother Joseph.” Other notable hymns by Phelps include "Gently Raise the Sacred Strain," "If You Could Hie to Kolob," "O God, the Eternal father," and "Praise to the Man."
The text for “The Spirit of God” forecasted a major milestone in Church history—the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836. The events of the dedication are described in an episode of the Mormon Channel’s History of Hymns:
“On Sunday, March 27, 1836, the Kirtland Temple was dedicated. By 7 o’clock, over a thousand people were waiting by the doors of the temple, which opened at 8. The meeting began at 9, Sidney Rigdon speaking for two and a half hours and Joseph reading the dedicatory prayer, which had been revealed to him. The music for the service included three of Brother Phelps’s songs: “Now Let Us Rejoice,” “Adam-ondi-Ahman,” and the grand finale following the dedication, “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning,” proclaiming the experiences which were even then moving with power and wonder through the souls of those present. As the blessings of heaven were poured out upon their heads, many of the Saints spoke in tongues, while others were given the power to interpret. Many saw angels atop the temple roof or heard heavenly singing, and there were wonderful manifestations of healings, of visions and dreams. The Savior Himself appeared in five different meetings held in the temple, and visions were given to many of both the Father and the Son.”
The notes recorded during the dedication imply that “The Spirit of God” was sung to the same tune (HOSANNA) as “Now Let Us Rejoice,” and was sung directly after the dedicatory prayer. Listen to the entire episode.
The hymn is sung at every temple dedication today, and Gordon B. Hinckley commented on the hymn, saying, “It’s been my opportunity in the last 28 months to participate in the dedication of 17 new temples. … In each of these services [the congregation and choir have] joined in singing ‘The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning.’ And in each of those situations I have sat with the choir immediately behind me and the choir has always had difficulty singing because of the tears that choke their voices as they try to express themselves in a newly dedicated house of God” (Hymnbook Celebration, Sept. 3, 1985).
In the video below, the Choir performs “The Spirit of God” as heard on the album Come, Come, Ye Saints (Legacy Series).