Tuesday, July 20, 2021

President Ezra Taft Benson’s Special Witness of Jesus Christ

[Readers desiring to obtain their own hardback copies of volume one of I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses Came to Know Jesus Christ can find copies on sale here  Softbound copies can be purchased here, on sale. An ebook (Kindle) edition is available on Amazon here, for cheap. The Amazon page also includes the Introduction and first chapter of volume one for free.]


(by Dennis B. Horne)

  

There have been many in this dispensation who have seen Him.

As one of those special witnesses so called in this day,

I testify to you that He lives.

  

            “I cannot recall a time that I did not believe in Jesus Christ,” President Ezra Taft Benson said. “It seems that the reality of His life, death, and resurrection has always been a part of me. I was reared in a home by faithful parents who earnestly believed in and testified of Christ, for which I am most grateful.”[1] Elder Benson’s father, George T. Benson Jr., the grandson of Apostle Ezra T. Benson, brought a beautiful influence into the Benson home located in the small town of Whitney, Idaho. “When my own father went on a mission, . . .” Elder Benson said, “There came into that home a spirit of missionary work that has never left it, . . .”[2]

 

Early Life and Marriage

            Ezra Taft—known as “T” to friends and family—was born in 1899 in his father’s home on their farm. His father’s love of farming and agriculture passed to him and it became his main vocation. Whether by coincidence or divine design, Ezra came to know both Harold B. Lee and Marion G. Romney in his youth, men that he would later serve with in the presiding councils of the Church.

            After high school graduation Ezra met the young woman who would eventually become his wife. He told the story in a 1979 interview less smoothly but more candidly then how it is related in some other publications:

 

            I was one time with my more affluent friends . . . spending the weekend [with them]. We were out at the barns. This was the first time I ever saw the girl who was to be my wife. A young lady drove by in a Ford pickup. And these fellows, my friends, waved to her. She came back in a few minutes and they waved to her again. I said, “Who is that girl?” They said, “That’s Flora Amussen.” I said, “I have a strong impression that I am going to marry her; she’s going to become my wife.” I said, “If I come down here this winter quarter, I’m going to date her”—just like that. I won’t repeat what one of them said. He said, “like ‘h’ you will. She’s too popular for a farm boy.” I said, “That makes it all the more interesting.” That was the end of the conversation, but that is the first time I ever saw her. It was some time before I got my first date [with her]. . . . We had seven glorious years of courtship.[3]

 

            Ezra served a mission to England (1921-23) and Flora to Hawaii (1924-26) and after she returned they were married in the Salt Lake Temple by Ezra’s mission president, Elder Orson F. Whitney (see Elder Whitney’s chapter in this book).

            The following years were filled with further agricultural education and raising a family. Ezra moved up in agri-business and began to become nationally known for his competence and expertise.[4] His successful employment pursuits took him to Washington D.C., where he was also called to serve as a stake president. Then in 1943 everything changed.

 

Called as a Special Witness of Jesus Christ

            Elder Benson shared the story of his call as the “youngest member” of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

 

            The biggest shock of my life and the most humbling experience was to be called into the Twelve. Such a thought had never entered my mind, that I would ever be called as a General Authority. I was a national director of the National Council of Farm Cooperatives. . . . I had been offered advancements in the Cooperative movement. One of them in particular attracted me; it would take me into active management in an organization that covered seven states. I had a memorandum in my pocket [containing an employment offer], to ask one of the brethren . . . if there would be any objection to me taking the job which would take me out of Washington [D.C.] and require me to be released as stake president.

            Before I had an opportunity to ask anyone [about the job offer] I was told that President Grant wanted to see me. I would be picked up and taken to [see him]. . . . I said I am sorry I am afraid I don’t have time . . . I have an appointment . . . tonight. . . . We drove up quickly. President Grant was in a bedroom alone. I was asked to go in. He was lying on the bed. He asked me to pull a chair up close to him which I did. He took both my hands in his and said, “Brother Benson, with all my heart I congratulate you. You have been called as the youngest apostle in the Church.” I don’t know that we said that much more. I cried and he cried and the Spirit was there as I had never felt it before in my life. He said, “We have been worried [about getting ahold of you] because the decision was made [to call you] some time ago.” He gave me some instructions of what to tell President McKay. . . .

            It has been the choicest of all human relationships. Except the relationship with your own eternal companion, I think there isn’t anything to compare with it, the relationship you have in the Twelve. A great group of men with great devotion, dedication and loyalty. Any one of them I would be willing to serve under and support them as the leader of the Twelve. I have a great love of them. I remember when Brother [Harold B.] Lee was called [to the Twelve]. We had been schoolmates. . . . We threw our arms around each other. I told him how proud I was of him. Even at that time I never dreamed the call would come to me. It had never entered my mind. It is a glorious experience. There is no brotherhood anywhere in the world to compare with it. It is one of the sweetest things that can happen to a human being. I know that. To hear the testimonies of my brethren is a glorious experience.[5]

 

            During his first General Conference address, what was often informally labelled an “acceptance” talk, Elder Benson spoke more about the emotional and spiritual shock of receiving the call:

 

            My brethren, I must confess I had no premonition of this call, even of the shortest duration. When passing through Salt Lake and stopping over here, just between trains, enroute to Colorado on the 26th of July, President McKay indicated that the President of the Church wanted to see me a few moments. Even then such a thought as of being called to this high and holy calling never entered my mind. It was only a few minutes later that President Grant took my right hand in both of his and looked into the depths of my very soul and said: “Brother Benson, with all my heart I congratulate you and pray God’s blessings to attend you: you have been chosen as the youngest Apostle of the Church.”

            The whole world seemed to sink. I could hardly believe it was true, that such a thing could happen, and it has been difficult since for me to realize that it is a reality.[6]

 

            Ezra had previously met with a “Cooperative movement” man to discussed his future career. “He called me to one side and said: ‘We know you've had opportunities to go elsewhere, but we want you to stay with the cooperative movement. All you need to do is name your figure. Don't become disinterested. We want you to continue.’” . . . “Then only a few days later this call came. I called this man on the telephone . . . and said, ‘Mr. Teague, the Church has called me to a more important work,’ and then I indicated what the call was, and this good man said, ‘With all my heart I congratulate you.’”[7]

           

A Special Mission to Europe

            As he began his apostolic ministry, Elder Benson did the same things as his associates, traveling the country as assigned to visit wards and stakes and tour missions as the visiting General Authority.[8] But in early 1946, with World War II having ended, the First Presidency called him on a special mission to Europe.[9] He explained: “The magnitude of it seemed overwhelming. They gave us a four-point charge: First, to attend to the spiritual affairs of the Church in Europe; second, to work to make available food, clothing, and bedding to our suffering Saints in all parts of Europe; third, to direct the reorganization of the various missions of Europe; and, fourth, to prepare for the return of missionaries to those countries.”[10]

            The distribution of welfare supplies from the Church’s storehouses in the United States became the most pressing need because of immediate hunger and cold. This mission, undertaken in companionship with Fred Babbel who served as Elder Benson’s assistant and secretary, took them most of a year, and despite horrific circumstances consequent to the aftermath of war, they witnessed miracle after miracle, both large and small, in their labors. Brother Fred Babbel recorded his observations of Elder Benson’s unwavering faith and testimony as he pressed forward to help these suffering latter-day saints; several are noted below:

 

            [A testimony:] “I know as I know that I live that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, the Savior of the world. I know that God our Eternal Father lives, that he speaks to his prophets today and that we are all literally his sons and daughters in the spirit and may become such in fuller measure throughout the eternities if we will accept the gospel, live it and merit fellowship with him in the celestial kingdom. I have seen this power; I have felt it in my life. Since becoming a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles I have seen this power made manifest more strongly than ever before in my life.”[11]

 

            [An observation:] “Wherever we went, he desired the privacy of a room alone. From my observation he not only talked matters over with the Lord, but the Lord was not unmindful of him and was pleased to reveal to him things beyond the normal comprehension of man. After each such experience he appeared to gain new strength and insight.”[12]

 

            [A spiritual experience in a meeting:] “I hope you were listening carefully as the children were singing. Let me assure you that they were not singing alone. The angels were singing with them. And if the Lord would touch your spiritual eyes and understanding, you would see that many of your loved ones whom you have lost during the war, are assembled with us today. I have never felt the Spirit of the Lord stronger then I do this morning. . . . The veil between us and the world of spirits is very thin. I feel most strongly that there are others here besides those we can see—some of your loved ones are here, also some of the leaders of the Church who have passed on. They loved no people more than you who are here. Those in authority in the heavens above are pleased and willing that the spirits of our loved ones should be near us.”[13]

 

            [An observation:] “I must repeat again and again that the Lord knew what he was doing when he sent President Benson over here. He is a living apostle of God in every way. . . . I continue to marvel at his unwavering faith, his unflinching courage, his resolute determination and undaunted spirit. . . . He not only speaks to God, but he listens, and I’m sure God speaks with him even as he did with his apostles of old. He is a truly great servant of God. . . .”[14]

 

            [An observation while overcoming a major travel problem:] “President Benson met me at the door and inquired anxiously whether I had been able to get the needed [travel] permission. When I said no, he was noticeably disappointed. I sensed deeply with him that we were faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem. After a few moments of soul-searching reflection, during which neither one of us broke the silence, he said quietly but firmly, ‘Let me pray about it.’ Some two or three hours after President Benson had retired to his room to pray, he stood in my doorway and said with a smile on his face, ‘Pack your bags. We are leaving for Poland in the morning!’ At first I could scarcely believe my eyes. He stood there enveloped in a beautiful glow of radiant light. His countenance shown as I imagine the Prophet Joseph’s countenance shone when he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”[15] [The travel problem was solved shortly.]

 

            After much grueling travel; suffering occasional cold and hunger; attending many meetings with often hesitant or uncooperative government officials, the military, and the suffering Latter-day Saints; on October 28, 1946, Elder Benson wrote in his diary: “It is nine months today since I was set apart by the First Presidency for this mission. Throughout the entire period the Lord has been near me. Never once have I been downhearted or discouraged.”[16] During the time Elder Benson was in Europe, an infant daughter caught a cold that developed into Pneumonia, from which she almost died, and his wife Flora had a serious health issue that eventually necessitated an operation. This meant Elder Benson was dealing with both his European mission responsibilities and also the serious health issues endured by loved ones at home, all at the same time.

            With his special mission to Europe concluded, he again entered into his regular apostolic ministry. At the 1949 General Conference, he bore his witness: “I testify to you this day that these things are true, that this is the work of God. I bear this testimony knowing full well that eventually I must stand before the judgment seat of God, as you my brethren and sisters will be required to do. I testify in all humility that God has again spoken from the heavens, following a long period of apostasy, that he has raised up a prophet, that Joseph Smith was the instrument in his hands in restoring again to the earth the Holy Priesthood, the true Church organization with all the blessings enjoyed in former days, and even more, because this is the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. I bear this testimony to you in all humility and with gratitude in my heart, . . .”[17]

 

Accepts President Eisenhower’s Request to become United States Secretary of Agriculture

            An interruption of regular apostolic duties came, again as a surprise, to Elder Benson in January of 1953, when United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked him to serve in his cabinet as Secretary of Agriculture. President Benson accepted the post, with President McKay’s permission, having been told by the prophet that if the call to serve came in the right spirit he could accept. Although President Benson tried to resign every two years afterward, he remained in the Cabinet all eight years of Eisenhower’s presidency. This high government post drastically curtailed his active participation in the normal duties of the apostleship. His government service also exposed him to the many philosophies found throughout the world, including a close-up look at Communism, which caused him to speak out against that evil political and philosophical sophistry often and with great zeal.

            On occasion Secretary Benson was enabled to fit into his schedule some duties related to his apostolic ministry. One of them was his attendance at the dedication of the Swiss Temple. Secretary (and Elder) Benson explained:

 

            I am very grateful to President McKay and the other members of the Presidency that Sister Benson and I were invited to attend that glorious dedication in Bern, Switzerland. I think I have never felt in all my life the veil quite so thin as it was three weeks ago this morning as we met in the opening session of that dedication service in that lovely spot in the house of the Lord, and as we listened to the prayer offered by President McKay and the remarks which preceded that prayer. Surely he was inspired, and surely we were all uplifted and convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that the action taken by the First Presidency in extending temples into Europe had the benediction and approval of our Heavenly Father. I shall never forget that glorious event! To me it was the most important event that has transpired in Europe in 118 years since the gospel was first taken to those shores.[18]

 

            1961 saw Secretary Benson return to his full-time apostolic service, having served in President Eisenhower’s cabinet with distinction and being the only member of that cabinet to last all eight years.

 

Testifying as a Special Witness

            At the April 1964 General Conference, Elder Benson bore powerful testimony of Jesus Christ and of his resurrection in particular. Elements of this address would serve as the basis for other talks he would give about the Savior in his ministry:

 

            I bear witness to you that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world—the very Son of God.

            He was born the babe of Bethlehem.

            He lived and ministered among men.

            He was crucified on Calvary.

            His friends deserted him.

            His closest associates did not fully understand his mission, and they doubted. One of the most trusted denied knowing him.

            A pagan governor, struggling with his conscience after consenting to Jesus' death, caused a sign to be erected over the cross proclaiming him “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (John 19:19.)

            He asked forgiveness for his tormentors and then willingly gave up his life.

            His body was laid in a borrowed tomb.

            An immense stone was placed over the opening.

            In the minds of his stunned followers over and over echoed some of his last words, ". . . be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (Ibid., 16:33.)

            On the third day there was a great earthquake. The stone was rolled back from the door of the tomb. Some of the women, among the most devoted of his followers, came to the place with spices "and found not the body of the Lord Jesus." (Luke 24:3.)

            Angels appeared and said simply "Why seek ye the living among the dead?

            “He is not here, but is risen.” (Ibid., 24:5-6.)

            There is nothing in history to equal that dramatic announcement: “He is not here, but is risen.”

            “He is Risen”

            The greatest events of history are those which affect the greatest number for the longest periods. By this standard, no event could be more important to individuals or nations than the resurrection of the Master. The eventual resurrection of every soul who has lived and died on earth is a scriptural certainty, and surely there is no event for which one should make more careful preparation. Nothing is more absolutely universal than the resurrection. Every living being will be resurrected. ". . . as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:22.) . . .

            Yes, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a glorious reality. He became the first fruits of them that slept. He truly rose from the tomb the third day, as he and his prophets foretold, and became in very deed “the resurrection and the life.” He broke the bonds of death for all of us. We, too, will be resurrected. Our spirits will be reunited with our bodies.

            Later the Risen Lord appeared to other women, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, to the Apostles, and “after that,” as reported by Paul, “he was seen of about five hundred brethren at once.”

            “And last of all,” continued Paul, “he was seen of me also.” (1 Cor. 15:6, 8.)

            Yes, Christ's resurrection was abundantly verified. The witnesses are many. Throughout the forty days following his resurrection the Lord manifested himself at intervals and gave instructions in the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. Much that he said and did is not written, but such things as are of record, John assures us, “. . . are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:31.)

            He had told his followers that he must soon ascend unto his Father in heaven. And as the time of his ascension drew nigh, the Lord in that last solemn interview gave his parting instructions to his disciples.

            And when Christ and the disciples had gone, “as far as to Bethany” where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived, the Lord lifted his hands and blessed them. And while he yet spoke he rose from their midst until a cloud received him from out of their sight. As the Apostles stood gazing steadfastly upward, two personages clothed in white apparel appeared by them. They spoke unto the eleven saying, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11, also Luke 24:50-51.)

            Worshipfully, and with great joy the Apostles returned to Jerusalem. The Lord's ascension was accomplished. It was truly a literal departure of a material being, as his resurrection had been an actual return of his spirit to his own physical body. . . .

            No other single influence has had so great an impact on this earth as the life of Jesus the Christ. We cannot conceive of our lives without his teachings. Without him we would be lost in a mirage of beliefs and worships, born in fear and darkness where the sensual and materialistic hold sway. We are far short of the goal he set for us, but we must never lose sight of it; nor must we forget that our great climb toward the light, toward perfection, would not be possible except for his teachings, his life, his death, and his resurrection.

            May God hasten the day when people everywhere will accept his teachings, his example, and his divinity, yes, when they will accept as a reality his glorious resurrection which broke the bonds of death for all of us. . . .

            What a priceless gift it is that we can know him through our own prayers and through the sacred and solemn testimonies of those that have seen him, known him, felt his presence.

            On this spring day more than 1900 years after his resurrection, I give you my solemn witness and testimony that I know that Jesus the Christ lives. He was in very deed raised from the dead as we shall be. He is "the resurrection and the life: . . ." He appeared unto many in the Old World after his resurrection and according to modern scriptures, sacred to me and to Latter-day Saints everywhere, he spent three glorious days before his final ascension with his “other sheep” here in America, the new world.

            By him and through him and his gospel, God the Father has made it possible for you and me to overcome the world.

            Yes, my friends, Jesus is the Christ. He lives. He did break the bonds of death. . . .[19]

 

            As the apostles occasionally did (and still do), Elder Benson reused and repeated parts of his 1964 Conference message in his 1971 message, effectually hinting to hearers with hearts to understand that he wanted to emphasize the import of the wording, that he absolutely knew Jesus was resurrected.[20] With the death of President Harold B. Lee in late 1973, and with Spencer W. Kimball becoming the President of the Church, Elder Benson became President Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

 

Warnings against the false philosophies and theories of men and science

            As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Elder Benson acted as a “watchman upon the tower” (D&C 101:53-54), meaning he warned members of the Church to reject the false philosophies of the world, including the theory of evolution. In one message he warned: “Now, we have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should. Our homes are not as strong unless we are using it to bring our children to Christ. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, etc.”[21]

            In a (1969) general conference message, he urgently counseled: “The world worships the learning of man. They trust in the arm of flesh. To them, men's reasoning is greater than God's revelations. The precepts of man have gone so far in subverting our educational system that in many cases a higher degree today, in the so-called social sciences, can be tantamount to a major investment in error. Very few men build firmly enough on the rock of revelation to go through this kind of an indoctrination and come out untainted. Unfortunately, of those who succumb, some use their higher degree to get teaching positions even in our Church educational system, where they spread the falsehoods they have been taught.”[22]

            That was followed by another strong caution given at another conference: “As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. President Joseph F. Smith referred to false educational ideas as one of the three threatening dangers among our Church members. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children; and if they have become alert and informed as President McKay admonished us last year, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, John Dewey, Karl Marx, John Keynes, and others.”[23] President Benson followed up that counsel with this: “If your children are taught untruths of evolution in the public schools or even in our Church schools, provide them with a copy of President Joseph Fielding Smith's excellent rebuttal in his book Man, His Origin and Destiny.”[24]

 

One of Many Who Have Seen Him

            In 1979 President Benson gave (at least) two addresses to gatherings of Latter-day Saints in which he used similar and carefully phrased wording to indicate that he had beheld the Lord Jesus Christ, and probably also handled His resurrected body. The first was given on December 9 to students attending the Institute near the University of Utah. On this occasion he shared this sublime witness: “I say, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest historical event in the world to date. In this dispensation, commencing with the Prophet Joseph Smith, the witnesses are legion. As one of those called as a special witness, I add my testimony to those of my fellow Apostles: He lives! He lives with a resurrected body. There is no truth or fact of which I am more assured, or know better by personal experience, than the truth of the literal Resurrection of our Lord.”[25]

            This declaration was followed by another one like it (but perhaps even more clear) shortly thereafter, given to a gathering of saints in California: “Because He was Godeven the Son of Godhe alone had the power of resurrection. And so on the third day following His burial, He came forth from the tomb alive and showed Himself to many. There were witnesses then who saw Him. There have been many in this dispensation who have seen Him. As one of those special witnesses so called in this day, I testify to you that He lives. He lives with a resurrected body. There is no truth or fact of which I am more assured or more confident than the truth of the literal resurrection of our Lord.”[26]

            Other declarations of testimony uttered by Brother Benson during these years before he became the President of the Church: “Jesus lives today. He is risen. This I know. . . . Yes, Jesus Christ is divine. He lives today. He was resurrected. He is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.”[27] Again:

 

            Now there remains but one thing more for me to do today, and that is to bear my personal testimony.

            I know that God lives, that he is a personal being, the Father of our spirits, and that he loves his children and hears and answers their righteous prayers. I know that it is his will that his children be happy. It is his desire to bless us all. I know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Elder Brother, the very Creator and Redeemer of the world. I know that God has again established his kingdom on the earth in fulfillment of prophecy and that it will never be overcome, but it shall ultimately hold universal dominion in the earth and Jesus Christ shall reign as its King forever.

            I know that God in his goodness has again revealed himself from the heavens and that Joseph Smith was called of God to reestablish that kingdomThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I testify that he accomplished this work, that he laid the foundations and that he committed to the Church the keys and powers to continue the great Latter-day work, which he began under the direction of Almighty God.

            I know that Joseph Smith, although slain as a martyr to the truth, still lives and that as head of this dispensationthe greatest of all gospel dispensationshe will continue so to stand throughout the eternities to come. He is a prophet of God, a seer, and a revelator, as are his successors. I know that the inspiration of the Lord is directing the Church today because I have felt of its power. I know that the First Presidency and other General Authorities of the Church have as their object and purpose the glory of God and the exaltation of his children. And finally, I know that no person who does not receive this work can be saved in the celestial kingdom of God and escape the condemnation of the Judge of us all.

            Humbly and prayerfully I leave this testimony, knowing full well I must eventually meet my Maker and stand with all men before the judgment bar of God. More than anything else in all the world, I am grateful for this testimony of the divinity of this great latter-day work and exhort all men everywhere to give heed thereto, . . .[28]

 

            And again: “I bear witness to you, my beloved brethren and sisters, that God lives. He is not dead. I bear testimony that God our Father and His Beloved Son, our Savior and Redeemer, did in very deed appear to Joseph Smith. I know this as I know that I live. I testify there is a God in heaven who hears and answers prayer. I know this to be true.”[29]

            The following declaration of testimony, given to an audience at BYU, also contained a strong warning to scholars and academics who question and doubt or seek to deny the reality of the first vision:

 

            He lives today; of that I bear solemn witness. This same Jesus has already come to earth in our day. The resurrected Christ—glorified, exalted, the God of this world under the Father—appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in 1820. This same Jesus—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Moses, the Creator of this earth—has come in our day. He was introduced by the Father to Joseph Smith with these words: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith 2:17). There are some in our midst who sponsor the sophistry that this appearance of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, was not literal, that it was probably a product of the Prophet’s imaginings. That is an absolute falsehood. It is not only an attempt to discredit the testimony of Joseph Smith; it would discredit the testimony of Jesus himself who literally appeared to the Prophet as a witness of His own resurrection.[30]

 

            In the 1980s, President Benson gave some Conference addresses that were specifically chosen as opportunities to bear witness of Jesus and hint at sacred spiritual experiences he had received that granted him sure knowledge; brief but powerful excerpts follow:

 

            “To possess a testimony of Jesus is to know that He voluntarily took upon Himself the sins of all mankind in the Garden of Gethsemane, which caused Him to suffer in both body and spirit and to bleed from every pore. All this He did so that we would not have to suffer if we would repent. (See D&C 19:16, 18.)

            “To possess a testimony of Jesus is to know that He came forth triumphantly from the grave with a physical, resurrected body. And because He lives, so shall all mankind.

To possess a testimony of Jesus is to know that God the Father and Jesus Christ did indeed appear to the Prophet Joseph Smith to establish a new dispensation of His gospel so that salvation may be preached to all nations before He comes.”[31]

 

            “I bear testimony that this is the Church of Jesus Christ. He presides over it and is close to His servants.”[32]

 

            “I humbly testify that He is the same loving, compassionate Lord today as when He walked the dusty roads of Palestine. He is close to His servants on this earth..”[33]

 

            “I testify to you that God lives and that today He communicates to His servants His will.”[34]

 

            “I know that the inspiration of the Lord is directing the Church today because I have felt of its power.”[35]

 

            “The spirit world is not far away. Our work is all one great program on both sides of the veil. Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. This I know! Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us.”[36]

 

Commanded to Emphasize The Book of Mormon

            President Benson is probably best known to church members who remember him as the prophet who promoted and emphasized the Book of Mormon as no other has. He received the revelation to begin doing this even before he became the President of the Church. Note that the Mexico City Temple was dedicated December 2, 1983, about two years before he became the President of the Church. “As I participated in the Mexico City Temple dedication,” he stated, “I received the distinct impression that God is not pleased with our neglect of the Book of Mormon.”[37] It would seem that experiences such as this one, where he received direct revelation, led him to an almost obsessive desire to urge the Latter-day Saints to study and follow the teachings of the Book of Mormon. General Conference talks that he gave over the years bear this out.[38]

            After becoming the President of the Church, in his April 1986 Conference address, President Benson used some rather unique language that is not often heard in General Conference, but which carried the substantial prophetic weight of the Prophet of God supported by the Holy Spirit. In emphasizing the great need of the Latter-day Saints studying the Book of Mormon and living its doctrines, but indicating that such had not yet happened to the extent the Lord wanted it to, he said:

 

            The Lord inspired His servant Lorenzo Snow to reemphasize the principle of tithing to redeem the Church from financial bondage. In those days the General Authorities took that message to the members of the Church.

            Now, in our day, the Lord has revealed the need to reemphasize the Book of Mormon to get the Church and all the children of Zion out from under condemnationthe scourge and judgment. (See D&C 84:54–58.) This message must be carried to the members of the Church throughout the world. . . .

            Now, in the authority of the sacred priesthood in me vested, I invoke my blessing upon the Latter-day Saints and upon good people everywhere.

            I bless you with increased discernment to judge between Christ and anti-Christ. I bless you with increased power to do good and to resist evil. I bless you with increased understanding of the Book of Mormon. I promise you that from this moment forward, if we will daily sup from its pages and abide by its precepts, God will pour out upon each child of Zion and the Church a blessing hitherto unknownand we will plead to the Lord that He will begin to lift the condemnationthe scourge and judgment. Of this I bear solemn witness.[39]

 

            With members of the Church unused to hearing about scourges and judgments being visited upon them because of their lack of usage and application of the Book of Mormon, this piqued interest and caused some speculation around the Church as to what exactly it was President Benson meant—but it also caused spiritually receptive people to study the Book of Mormon more. Talk from the Prophet about pleading with the Lord to lift condemnation from them was also new. We do not know the whole story, nor the behind the scenes deliberations of the Brethren on this matter. Yet President Benson did say this, which might be both enlightening and unsettling to Latter-day Saints today: “Moses never entered the promised land. Joseph Smith never saw Zion redeemed. Some of us may not live long enough to see the day when the Book of Mormon floods the earth and when the Lord lifts His condemnation. (See D&C 84:54–58.) But, God willing, I intend to spend all my remaining days in that glorious effort.”[40] Evidently some condemnation may still remain; perhaps only the current prophet could say.

            In his last major address on the Book of Mormon, President Benson—again—indicated that he had received revelation about the Book of Mormon for both the Church and the world: “I do not know fully why God has preserved my life to this age, but I do know this: That for the present hour He has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner.”[41] President Benson’s special witness of Jesus Christ owed much to the Book of Mormon.

 

Becomes President of the Church

            President Spencer W. Kimball died on November 5, 1985, and (then) eighty-six-year-old Ezra Taft Benson was ordained President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on November 10, 1985.

            In one of his first talks to the Church after becoming its Prophet and President, he said: “I have been aware of those who preceded me in this office as President of the Church. I have felt very keenly my dependence upon the Lord and the absolute necessity of relying upon Him for His direction in the conduct of the affairs of the Church as those in the past have done.”[42]

            In 1986 President Benson participated in the dedication of the Denver Colorado Temple. President Henry B. Eyring recorded what he witnessed: “President Benson spoke in the first session from a prepared text. Then he put aside the other talk he had prepared for the second and third sessions. And those talks were completely different from each other. The first was a sweet memory of a spiritual experience in his family. He said afterwards that someone in the 1600 person audience somewhere in the temple needed it. In the next session, he repeated over and over again that he had a testimony of the Lord’s pattern for succession in the Presidency. And then, he suddenly thundered, ‘This Church is true. And if you don’t believe it, why don’t you get out of it?’ Then, he went on quietly. Kathy and I later shared the same impression: he had been told by inspiration to rebuke someone in that audience. It was a powerful manifestation of prophetic power.”[43]

            One of President Benson’s greatest messages to the Church was one of bearing pure testimony as the chief special witness. He even titled an address “I Testify.” He then declared pure testimony, summarizing gospel doctrines and testifying of their truthfulness:

 

            As a special witness of Jesus Christ, and as His humble servant, it is now my obligation and privilege, as the Spirit dictates, to bear pure testimony and witness to that which I know to be true. (See Alma 4:19.) This I will do. . . .

            I testify that Christ was born into mortality with Mary as His mother and our Heavenly Father as His father. (See 1 Ne. 11:18–21; Mosiah 3:8.) He lived a sinless life, providing us a perfect example. (See D&C 45:4; 3 Ne. 12:48; 3 Ne. 27:27.) He worked out the great Atonement, which, through His grace, provides for every soul a resurrection and, for the faithful, the means to become exalted in the celestial kingdom.[44]

 

            In his last few years, President Benson was too incapacitated to give his own prepared messages at General Conference, so he asked his counselors to read them for him. His last and perhaps most memorable address was about the sin of pride. He had begun to give a similar message in an earlier conference but had not had time. Yet he could not rest without ensuring his message was delivered; one that he declared came from God. “This message has been weighing heavily on my soul for some time. I know the Lord wants this message delivered now,” he said.[45]

            While President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Ezra Taft Benson shared the witness he wanted remembered by all: “I say to my posterity and to the world that I know this work is true. It’s the greatest work in all the world. I know that the greatest event that has transpired in this world since the resurrection of the Master was the appearance of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, who became the prophet of this dispensation. These things I know with all my heart. I know them as I know that I live.”[46]

            In the 1990s, President Benson’s health declined significantly, reducing him to a wheelchair. Despite this, and as had been done previously with President Kimball when he was likewise incapacitated, President Benson still heard and approved all major decisions of the First Presidency and the Twelve. He passed away in May of 1994.

 



[1] “The Meaning of Easter,” Ensign, April 1992, 2.

[2] “Our Responsibility to Share the Gospel,” Ensign, May 1985. President Benson metioned the influence of that spirit of missionary work in many talks.

[3] “An Interview with Ezra Taft Benson, 1979”; author’s transcript excerpt of an interview video presentation created under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, 1983.

[4] For further information on Ezra Taft Benson’s life, see Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987).

[5] “An Interview with Ezra Taft Benson, 1979” (1983).

[7] Ibid.

[8] In 1949 Elder Benson said: “For four and one-half years of the six, I have had the opportunity of traveling among the stakes of Zion, meeting the stake presidencies, high councils, bishoprics, and Saints, and also visiting the missions of the Church and meeting the people there. It has been a priceless experience” (Conference Report, October 1949, 23).

[9] The two main works on this mission are: Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972), and Ezra Taft Benson, Labor of Love: The 1946 European Mission of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989); see also Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 197-227.

[10] Conference Report, April 1947, 153. In another talk, Elder Benson noted how he had received counsel from his Quorum leader right before leaving on this mission to Europe: “My soul echoed the sentiments expressed in behalf of our great leader, President George F. Richards. I loved him almost as a son loves a father. I recall vividly standing in his presence—alone with him in his office—just before I left for the shores of war-torn Europe. I recall his last words of counsel. I shall never forget them and the sweet embrace which he gave me as I was about to leave on that emergency mission under the direction of the First Presidency” (Conference Report, October 1950, 144).

[11] Babbel, On Wings of Faith, 39-40.

[12] Ibid, 100.

[13] Ibid, 116.

[14] Ibid, 125.

[15] Ibid, 132.

[16] In Benson, Labor of Love: The 1946 European Mission of Ezra Taft Benson, chap. 1.

[17] Conference Report, October 1949, 29.

[18] Conference Report, October 1955, 107.

[19] Conference Report, April 1964, 119.

[20] “Life is Eternal,” Ensign, May 1971.

[21] “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975.

[22] Conference Report, April 1969, 15.

[23] Conference Report, October 1970, 25.

[24] Ibid, 25. While the science President Smith used and quoted in his book may be outdated now, the scriptural explanations and teachings about the origin of man and Adam and Eve found throughout the book are not. They remain as relevant and true as when written.

[25] Ezra Taft Benson, “Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ,” New Era, December 1980; Given as an LDSSA fireside address in the University of Utah Special Events Center on Sunday, December 9, 1979.

[26] “First Presidency Message: Jesus Christ: Our Savior, Our God, . . .” in Ensign, April 1991; From an address by President Ezra Taft Benson delivered at San Diego, California, on 21 December 1979. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson manual botched its rendering of this superlative and deeply meaningful paragraph, quoting it thusly: “He alone had the power of resurrection. And so on the third day following His burial, He came forth from the tomb alive and showed Himself to many. … As one of [His] special witnesses so called in this day, I testify to you that He lives. He lives with a resurrected body. There is no truth or fact of which I am more assured or more confident than the truth of the literal resurrection of our Lord.”

[27] Conference Report, April 1966, 133.

[28] “A Message to the World,” Ensign, November 1975.

[29] “Prayer,” Ensign, May 1977.

[30] “Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also,” BYU Speeches, March 26, 1978.

[31] “Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus,” Ensign, May 1982.

[32] Ibid.

[33] “Jesus Christ Our Savior and Redeemer,” Ensign, November 1983.

[34] “Counsel to the Saints,” Ensign, May 1984.

[35] “A Message to the World,” Ensign, November 1975.

[36] Ezra Taft Benson, “Because I Live You Shall Live Also,” BYU Speeches, March 26, 1978.

[37] “A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, November 1984.

[38] These messages include: A New Witness for Christ (October 1984); The Power of the Word (April 1986); A Sacred Responsibility (April 1986—"in our day, the Lord has revealed the need to reemphasize the Book of Mormon.”); The Book of Mormon: Keystone of Our Religion (October 1986); The Gift of Modern Revelation (October 1986); The Savior’s Visit to America (April 1987); The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants (April 1987—this message repeats much of “The Gift of Modern Revelation”); “Come Unto Christ” (October 1987); Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon (October 1988). Many of these are found in his book, A Witness and a Warning (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988).

[39] “A Sacred Responsibility,” Ensign, May 1986.

[40] “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, November 1988.

[41] Ibid.

[42] “A Sacred Responsibility,” Ensign, May 1986.

[43] Henry B. Eyring diary entry for October 24, 1986, as quoted in Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring, I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), 384.

[44] “I Testify,” Ensign, November 1988.

[45] “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989.

[46] “An Interview with Ezra Taft Benson, 1979” (1983).

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