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.
Having referred to that supernal talk, which left the faithful with no doubt as to Elder McConkie’s witness, we often do not realize or remember that he bore a similarly powerful testimony in his first talk as an Apostle. On that occasion his voice also cracked with emotion and he also bore his witness by the power of the Holy Ghost. At that time he said that he had heard the voice of the Lord and that he had a perfect knowledge that God lived. “I know there is revelation in the Church because I have received revelation,” he said. “I know God speaks in this day because he has spoken to me.” It is no small thing to have the Lord Jesus Christ speak directly to you, and tell you what He would have you do, and what lies in your future. Elder McConkie did not indicate in this talk whether there was a veil between himself and Jesus or not, on these sacred occasions.
In fact, Elder McConkie had given more than one powerful talk in the months prior to his apostolic ordination, in which the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the congregation, preparing the hearts and minds of the members of the Church to accept and sustain his call as a special witness.
In his last talk as a member of the First Council of the Seventy, Elder McConkie said: “I asked the Lord what he would have me say on this occasion and received the distinct and affirmative impression that I should bear testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.” And then, “I know by personal revelation from the Holy Spirit to my soul that Jesus is the Lord.”
In his first talk to begin his apostolic ministry, in October of 1972, he explained a gift of the Spirit that he possessed, and its overwhelming effect upon him: “This gift is elsewhere described as the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy. This is my gift. I know this work is true. I have a perfect knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.”
Earlier, Elder McConkie had spoken at his father-in-law’s funeral (President Joseph Fielding Smith), also in great power. He later told family members that he had seen President Joseph F. Smith in attendance there at the funeral of his son, thereby manifesting keen interest in his family. As a Seventy, Elder McConkie had heard these words, spoken into his mind by the Holy Spirit on the occasion of the sustaining of the First Presidency, and giving him exacting assurance of whom to line up behind as his leaders and guides: “These are they whom I have chosen as the First Presidency of my Church. Follow them.” This Elder McConkie did, with complete faith and fidelity. He, along with others, made some mistakes in his ministry and in his doctrinal presentations (though I believe those were few and far between), and he was no diplomat. (His doctrinal corrections to others could be stinging, though meant for the best of the recipient.) But he became a pillar of spiritual and doctrinal strength in the Church and one of the greatest of the Special Witnesses.
It was said that Elder McConkie’s influence reached well beyond that of most apostles simply because of his scholarly-doctrinal output; many volumes of scriptural explanation that have engendered faith and spiritual knowledge in those who have been wise enough to read them. There are also those who foolishly desire to diminish his influence any way they can. They have enjoyed some success in some quarters, but among the faithful they have had little impact. As a certain General Authority once told me: “Doctrine lasts, and Elder McConkie knew it.” His books may not remain in hardcopy print on bookshelves, but they are availaibe in ebook form or olsewhere (such as Gospelink), and are yet teaching and inspiriting their readers.
Anyone wanting to know what Elder McConkie knew of the future should read his The Millennial Messiah book, or study his prophecies in his conference talks (for example, see here and especially here). I remember hearing one of the current apostles mention that they sometimes heard President Packer read from Elder McConkie’s prophecies in their temple meetings, and review how they were being fulfilled.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, even into the early 2000s, when I tried to get from the Church Historical Depaertment (as it was then called) a videotape or DVD copy of Elder McConkie’s final testimony, given at that great April 1985 General Conference, I was told that the First Presidency had restricted copies of his talk from being made. On asking why, I was told they (the employees working there) didn’t know why, just that the restriction was in place. I was left to come to my own conclusions, that perhaps they thought his special declaration too sacred. Such is only my speculation. However, with the passage of enough time, that restriction has been lifted and the talk is now available at the click of a mouse, to enjoy and be edified by.
On that sublime but physically and mentally strenuous occasion for him, he testified:
And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
Amen and well said.