Friday, May 26, 2017

President George F. Richards as a Special Witness of Jesus


            Most latter-day saints today do not know who George F. Richards was. Some of the older generation will remember his son LeGrand Richards, who served as the Presiding Bishop of the Church and also as an Apostle, but died in the 1980s. LeGrand’s father George was a spiritual giant that we might compare to President Boyd K. Packer today. President Richards was a member of a very prominent Mormon family that generationally seemed to possess the gift to dream inspired dreams—and George perhaps stood at the forefront.

            George was the son of Franklin D. Richards, most famous today for having compiled the material that became the Pearl of Great Price, which he did as president of the European Mission. He himself had a dream in which he saw himself conversing with President Brigham Young. In the dream, President Young called him to be an Apostle, and this was fulfilled soon thereafter. This family saw three generations of Richards’s called to the Quorum, with Stephen L. also among that number, and a later Franklin D. being called as an Assistant to the Twelve. Their family proved a great strength to the Church.

            President Richards began his service as a leader in the church as a stake president in Tooele, Utah, a small town west of Salt Lake City. From there he was called to the Twelve, where he served long and faithfully, eventually passing away in 1950 as the Quorum President. His Quorum associates felt he possessed an abundant measure of the Spirit of the Lord.

            Not long before his call to the Twelve, Stake President George F. Richards received a powerful dream, in which he saw the Savior Jesus Christ and felt the overpowering presence of the Holy Ghost as he came to a new understanding of love for His Lord. Along with this dream, he also received one with Hitler in it, in which he was taught that an Apostle must be able to love all mankind, even the worst and most heinous of God’s children.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

President Marion G. Romney as a Special Witness of Jesus


            The below information serves as an introduction to a much more complete chapter about President Marion G. Romney’s special witness of Jesus Christ, found in my forthcoming book, I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses came to Know Jesus Christ. Brother Romney was a mighty pillar among the Twelve Apostles of his day (30 years ago plus).

            As a boy I used to listen to Elder Marion G. Romney give talks in General Conference. They seemed less than compelling to my immature mind. By the time I was old enough to really pay attention and understand his messages, he was too old to give them. He spent his last few years largely blind and suffering memory loss.

            After some years passed, I came to recognize what a spiritual and doctrinal giant he was. I read his fine biography and talked with some mentors who had come to know and love him before I was born. Some of them spoke of him as an Apostle’s Apostle; I have found that they were right.

            Marion Romney’s first real awakening to spiritual matters came as he listened to Elder Melvin J. Ballard (grandfather of M. Russell Ballard), testify in a meeting of having seen and embraced the resurrected Savior Jesus Christ in the Holy Temple. This powerful narration electrified him so much that he decided to do whatever it took to serve a mission. He soon thereafter did so, laboring in Australia, where he had another precious and remarkable spiritual experience, firmly cementing his testimony and spiritual roots.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Book Review: The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Volume 5: October 1835 - January 1838

By Trevor Holyoak

Publisher: The Church Historian’s Press
Date Available: May 15, 2017
Number of Pages: 768
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-1629723129
Price: $54.95

(Page numbers are from an Advance Review Copy, and may be different in the published version.)

This volume covers an interesting period of Joseph Smith’s life that includes the finishing and dedication of the Kirtland Temple and the associated visions, work on the Book of Abraham, the Kirtland Safety Society, and persecution and apostasy. Some of the documents included are from Joseph Smith’s journals, and so have already been published in Journals, Volume 1:1832-1839. Others are from Minute Book 1, archival collections, periodicals, other peoples’ diaries, legal records, etc. There are no journals available covering April 1836 to January 1838, so some of the best contemporary sources were chosen to try to fill things in.

The book starts with the usual material for this series, including a timeline of Joseph Smith’s life, maps, an explanation of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, a volume introduction, and an explanation of the editorial method. The book is then divided into seven parts, based on time periods. There is an appendix with blessings to Don Carlos Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, and Sidney Rigdon. And then there is the usual reference material with source notes, a chronology, geographical directory and maps, pedigree chart, biographical directory, organizational charts, essay on sources, works cited, a cross-reference with the Doctrine and Covenants, index, etc. At the very back is a note about resources available on the Joseph Smith Papers website that relate to the series as well as this particular book.

Most of the first and second chapters of the Book of Abraham are included as “Book of Abraham Manuscript, circa Early June - circa November 1835-A [Abraham 1:4-2:6].” There is a historical introduction that explains how the papyri were obtained and what is known about the translation, as well as the publication in Times and Seasons. A footnote points out that “Though a notice printed in the 1 February 1843 issue of the Times and Seasons suggested that JS would publish ‘further extracts’ from the Book of Abraham, there is no documentary evidence that other extracts were produced. All extant manuscripts generated by JS and his associates during their study of the Egyptian papyri, dated circa 1835 to circa 1842,  are available at the Joseph Smith Papers website, josephsmithpapers.org.” (page 77)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Elder Matthew Cowley as a Special Witness of Jesus


            Elder Matthew Cowley was one of the more unique men to be called to the Apostleship in our day. It might be said that he served in his ministry more like one of the three Nephites or John the Revelator, all translated beings, than as a businessman. He in fact disliked working in the business-related aspects of the departments that support the ecclesiastical Church. He preferred to be out among the people, blessing them, which he did by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This was his great spiritual gift and was probably the most pronounced way that he demonstrated his calling and authority as a special witness for Jesus (only excepting bearing his testimony)—by exercising his faith to heal the sick and afflicted as directed by the Spirit. During his ministry he healed hundreds of ill people.

            He was also known as a special friend and supporter of the Polynesian peoples of the Pacific, among whom he served for many years. He sometimes hinted that it was from them that he learned and developed his pure and simple but powerful faith in Christ. One of his missionaries, Glen L. Rudd, became an unofficial companion to him as he blessed the sick, both as a mission president and as an apostle. Rudd seems to have had like faith to Cowley and they made a great team, going to hospitals and the homes of the sick to bless and encourage. Glen Rudd, who passed away just this last December (President Monson spoke at his funeral), later became a General Authority himself. Along with his own ministry, and especially after having been released from the Seventy, Elder Rudd spent considerable time and effort keeping the memory of his great mentor alive among the latter-day saints. Elder Rudd often spoke about Elder Cowley and took time to record many precious stories in talks and booklets that he passed out to friends and relatives and work associates. He gave many of these to me, including copyright permission to publish from them.

            Years ago, Cedar Fort published a book that I wrote about healings, Faith to Heal and be Healed, that also contained a chapter by Elder Rudd, adapting some talks he had given about Elder Cowley. Yet he had preserved much more about Elder Cowley than what was included in the chapter there.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Elder Bruce R. McConkie as a Special Witness of Jesus


            Twenty years ago, when I was trying to become an LDS seminary teacher, I did some student teaching, and also some part-time teaching for a few months (till I got cut). I remember that on one occasion, I asked a class of 35 ninth graders if they had ever heard of someone named Bruce R. McConkie. This was in Bountiful, Utah, in the heart of Mormondom. Not one hand went up. He had only been gone for a little over a decade by then, yet the rising generation was unaware of him.

            That was one of many reasons I decided to write a book about him: Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life & Teachings, issued in 2000 and in 2nd edition in 2010. I wanted to help preserve memory of him and his doctrinal insights. I think I helped do that in some small way. As 2 more decades have passed, I find that few under the age of 50 remember him, and I continue to feel a desire to keep memory of him alive, and also that of other apostolic spiritual giants of his generation. Hence, I have now prepared a 300 page work, I Know He Lives: How 13 Apostles came to know Jesus Christ (published by Cedar Fort), slated to be available in mid-September. Among other things, the chapters therein review 13 testimonies of now deceased apostles, with especial and pointed focus on their special witness of the resurrected Christ. Elder McConkie’s chapter is the longest of them, the main reason being because I know the most about him of any of the others and because I have assembled the most precious source material.

            Many of the older generation remember his final testimony given in General Conference in April of 1985. Those spiritually historic words have been quoted and requoted by church members who felt the Holy Spirit witness to them of their truth, in power, at the time they were uttered. And Elder McConkie was dead 3 weeks later. It is true that Elder McConkie’s voice cracked with emotion as he bore that final witness, but that is not the reason they were powerful—anyone can speak emotionally and say most anything. It was because they were perhaps the best wording that can be harnessed from the English language to convey his meaning and were conveyed and enveloped by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Elder Boyd K. Packer as a Special Witness of Jesus



            Editorial Note: this blog piece introduces and comments on a few matters relating to a chapter in my forthcoming book, I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses came to know Jesus Christ.

            Some six years ago, Elder David A. Bednar gave an interview to a staff member in the office of the BYU Religion Department’s Religious Educator journal. It was all about the work and purpose of special witnesses of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world; the work and testimony of the apostleship. In this piece he mentioned the following conversation: “President Boyd K. Packer and I were talking one day when he made a most helpful observation. He said the longer one serves as a member of the Twelve, the weightier the mantle becomes and the more overwhelmed you feel. I think this truth also applies to all Church callings. The longer I serve, the more I see and understand the weight of the calling. Consequently, the responsibility drives me to my knees and requires me to rely upon heavenly help instead of the arm of flesh.”

            President Packer’s apostolic mantle found place upon his shoulders for over four decades, and he bore it well. I recently listened to a talk by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, now an emeritus member of the Seventy. He spoke of listening to a very old man who had served in many local leadership capacities, and who had known most of the General Authorities for many decades. This old man replied to someone’s question about who among all those church leaders impressed him the most. His answer was that they all impressed him, but that Elder Packer impressed him as having a marvelously pure heart for one so young. He felt Elder Packer evidenced a clean and pure mind and heart, with no guile.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New Book coming about Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ: “I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses came to Know Jesus Christ”


            During the decades around the turn of the 19th to 20th Centuries, Andrew Jenson, for many years an assistant Church Historian, collected voluminous amounts of data and published hundreds of short biographical sketches in his LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (4 vols.). Orson F. Whitney did the same in the 4th volume of his imposing History of Utah. Also around this time Elder Matthias Cowley (father of Elder Matthew Cowley) also produced similar work in his Prophets and Patriarchs. (This was before his fall from grace as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve over plural marriage issues.) Some other similar works, such as Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, by Frank Esshom, also appeared.

            These works often traded information and articles with one another and it is sometimes said that to more recent academic historians, they feel more like lengthy obituaries. They concentrated on the highlights of what their subjects had done, including various inspirational stories and important leadership positions held. The more prominent subjects usually got more space. While limited in nature, these earlier treatments remain valuable as being a source of helpful biographical information on many early prominent Mormons and Utahns.

            In the 1950s, Bryant S. Hinckley, father of President Gordon B. Hinckley, then in his late eighties, wrote Faith of Our Pioneer Fathers. This work of under 300 pages has some 22 chapters, each biographically covering an important LDS church leader from the past. The individual pieces are somewhat longer than most of the previous treatments mentioned above and contain more stories and anecdotes and spiritual experiences had by their subjects. This volume was published in 1956 when Hinckley was 89 years old. His intention was to be faith-affirming and inspirational as well as truthful—a worthy goal.