Why did the Savior have to go away before He could send the Comforter? “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7).
Elder Uriah G. Miller explained: “Religious history bears out, it seems to me, the evident fact that, in all of God’s dealings with the children of men in the various generations of the world, when one member of the Godhead is upon the earth ministering generally among mankind, another one is taken away from the earth. It was altogether possible, no doubt was true, when Christ was upon the earth that he at times was visited by the Father, and that when he went down into the river Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove. We are told also in this sacred writing, that John the Baptist had in his soul the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb. Yet we find this rather startling declaration recorded in the Bible, in the 16th chapter of John and 7th verse, ‘Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is expedient that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you. But if I depart, I will send him unto you.’ Christ, one of the members of the Godhead, was upon the earth. While he was here, that passage of scripture would rather give us to understand, that the ministry of the Holy Ghost was not universal among the members of the Church. It was necessary that Christ should go, and when he went another member of the Godhead would descend and come and minister unto mankind” (Elder Uriah G. Miller, CR April 1920, Second Overflow Meeting, pp. 62-63).
This phenomenon existed before the meridian of time as well as after. Bruce R. McConkie said: “That these same blessings of inspiration and revelation from the Holy Spirit had been enjoyed by righteous men of Old Testament times we learn from Peter’s pronouncement ‘that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Peter 1:20-21)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, p.103).
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct beings but one in purpose (see Jehovah, one in purpose with the Father; We pray to the Father; and Biblical proof that Jesus is Jehovah). Elder Matthew Cowley wrote: “There is a distinct separation between the personality of the Savior and that of the Holy Ghost. Jesus, in speaking of those who should believe and obey Him, used this language: ‘He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified’ (John 7: 38-39). It appears from this statement that while Jesus was the representative of the Godhead to men in the flesh, at least for a period of time, the Holy Ghost had not come to officiate at that time as a personal witness of the Father and the Son to the children of men. To corroborate this idea, we quote from the sixteenth chapter of John, seventh verse: ‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ That this Comforter is the Holy Ghost is evident from the fourteenth chapter of St. John, sixteenth and twenty-sixth verses: ‘And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.’ Further: ‘But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me.’ (John 15:26.) These promises are so definite that no one could reasonably mingle the personality of the Holy Ghost with that of either the Father or the Son.” (Matthew Cowley, Cowley’s Talks on Doctrine, Personality of God, p. 82).
Elder John W. Taylor spoke of the gratitude we feel for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, “ [Jesus said,] ‘Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come.’ This is revelation. This is the power of God unto salvation. … I rejoice, my brethren and sisters, that this Church is built upon revelation. I can go further, and say that it is built ‘upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ. Himself being the chief corner stone’” (CR April 1901, Second Day-Morning Session, Elder John W. Taylor, p.30).
As LDS we believe that it is the Light of Christ that generally operates on mankind. The Holy Ghost, on the other hand, may be poured out on someone, usually to testify of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the Lord’s Church upon the earth. But it is not until a person has been baptized by an authorized servant of the Lord, and then confirmed through the laying of hands, that a person may receive the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. In either case, the most important role of the Spirit is to testify that Jesus is the very Christ, the Son of God.
So, this brings us back to the question, “Why did the Savior have to go away before He could send the Comforter?” I would suggest that the answer lies within this eternal principle: “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16b; 2 Corinthians 13:1b). When two of these witnesses are members of the Godhead, then this leaves the hearer without excuse. It is a principle of mercy that the Holy Ghost is not given as a constant companion and testifier until after a person has entered into the covenant of baptism and has been confirmed a member of the Church. Not until afer a person has agreed to "to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places" (Mosiah 18:9).
It is likewise a principle of mercy that generally (with some notable exceptions), the Comforter was not poured out while the Savior ministered among men. Else, those who rejected Him would have been left in complete condemnation. At the day of Pentecost the Brethren taught the people, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:36-38). What kindness, what love! And that is what the Savior wants for each of us, to come unto Him, to turn our hearts, and to return to Him and be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost to help us endure until the end, strong in our testimonies of Him who died for us.