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.
After graduating from law school, he practiced as an attorney for years, until his call as an Assistant to the Twelve Apostles, a General Authority calling that was a precursor to today’s Quorums of Seventy. After further trials and tests, he found himself called, sustained, and ordained as an Apostle, a special witness of Jesus Christ. It was while serving as a General Authority that he came to know of and deeply appreciate what would seem to be his greatest spiritual gift: to hear the voice of the Lord in his mind.
Elder Romney often made reference to the experience of the Book of Mormon prophet Enos, who talked about his own conversion and explained how he had heard the voice of the Lord come into his mind, giving him direction and understanding. These scriptural accounts carried great meaning for Elder Romney, who had experienced the same gift from God, with the heavenly voice coming into his own mind on many occasions. Elder Romney often testified of having had words, names, phrases, and entire sentences given to him in his mind, inaudible to the outward physical ear.
These sacred occasions were completely unlike the false and misleading voices that are often experienced by mentally ill people, who are sometimes led to do strange or evil things because of their mental illnesses or use of illicit drugs. Atheists and agnostics, as well as evangelicals opposing the Church, cannot comprehend the difference between these sources and therefore dismiss or denigrate the spiritual gift enjoyed by Enos and Elder Romney and countless other faithful latter-day saints. We recognize that Elder Romney perhaps possessed this particular gift in greater measure than some others among us, or those of his day. Yet to him it was a well of living water springing up, guiding and directing him in his apostolic ministry. And he taught that others could likewise cultivate and enjoy the same spiritual gift.
This gift is also among the reasons he became such a powerful special witness, for he became well acquainted with the voice of the Lord, and therefore knew the voice of the Good Shephard. When the Savior spoke to him, he knew with certainty who was speaking and where to follow. As time passed and he received a call as a counselor in the First Presidency, his spiritual gifts were magnified and he lived in tune with the Holy Spirit. We do not know all or even most of the spiritual experiences he enjoyed because of his obedience to the Master. Elder Robert D. Hales spoke of his inquiry of Elder Romney about his spiritual experiences:
As a regional representative, I was traveling with President Romney to a stake conference for the selection of a new stake president. We had been driving in a car for more than an hour discussing the Church and priesthood administration. For some reason, I asked a question that, at the moment I asked it, I realized was inappropriate.
The question I asked President Romney was “What is the most spiritual experience you have had as an apostle of the Lord?” There was a pause. It seemed like an eternity. Then he said, “I believe what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught, that if we would keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves, many more spiritual experiences could be shared with us.”
It seemed like there was a long period of silence after that remark, and then he said to me, “I owe you a better answer.” Then he gave me great counsel. He said the greatest spiritual experiences of his life had been when he had been on assignment from the president of the Church or the president of the Quorum of the Twelve, as we were that day. He said, “We will interview twenty-five or thirty priesthood brethren, and there will be more than one who will be qualified to be the stake president. But after we have done all we can do, we will get on our knees and pray to our Heavenly Father. We will tell him of our feelings of who the new stake president ought to be and the reasons why. We will tell him of the needs of the stake at this time. Then he will give us a confirmation.”
Brother Romney recorded in his diary (which is quoted in his biography and also in my new chapter) that he knew the Lord lived, but more than that, he knew the Lord. He had come to a personal acquaintance. Such is why he served so ably and powerfully as a special witness in his day, which ended in 1988, when he died of causes incident to old age. Readers will find much more information and detail about President Romney’s special witness in my book, I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses came to Know Jesus Christ, due out in September.