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(by Dennis B. Horne)
I want to add to these testimonies of these prophets
my testimony that I know that He lives.
And I know that we may see him.
“Just the other day one of my brethren came into the office to talk to me intimately and confidentially. After closing the door, he said, ‘Spencer, your father was a prophet. He made a prediction that has literally come to pass, and I want to tell you about it.’ He continued, ‘Your father talked with me. . . . You were just a little boy and you were sitting there, milking the cows, and singing to them as you milked. Your father turned to me and said, ‘brother, that boy, Spencer, is an exceptional boy. He always tries to mind me, whatever I ask him to do. I have dedicated him to be one of the mouthpieces of the Lord—the Lord willing. You will see him some day as a great leader. I have dedicated him to the service of God, and he will become a mighty man in the Church.’” So related Elder Kimball at the beginning of his first General Conference address.
Early and Middle Years
Spencer W. Kimball was a grandson of Heber C. Kimball (a counselor to President Brigham Young) and son of Andrew Kimball (a prominent businessman, mission president, and stake president). He was born March 28, 1895, in Thatcher, Arizona. He learned early to work hard on the family farm and at odd jobs elsewhere. From 1914-15 he served as a missionary in the Central States Mission. On his return he attended the University of Arizona for a semester, where he also met and married Camilla Eyring (1917). They settled in Safford, Arizona, where Spencer became a businessman himself, dabbling in several concerns but eventually becoming successful in the insurance business. During the great depression, to help his family get by, he exchanged goods for insurance.
Spencer also found that the Lord wanted him involved in spiritual matters, ministering to many. He wrote: “I remember that day, after Father’s burial, that President Heber J. Grant, who accompanied the body and ourselves to Arizona, and he personally gave the funeral sermon and then later reorganized the stake presidency. He ordained me a high priest and set me apart as a counsellor in the stake presidency. . . . I was then 29 years old.” Spencer was later called as the stake president himself. With a successful insurance business, a fine new home, and a prominent Church calling, things were going well.
In early 1943, (then) Presiding Bishop LeGrand Richards visited Spencer’s stake on routine assignment. Bishop Richards recalled: “I was there in his stake and he said, ‘Brother Richards, don’t just talk [to the people] about percentages [stake statistics]. The last general authority that was here, that’s all he talked about—[instead,] inspire us.’ So I tried to do that. After the stake conference, we went to Globe [Arizona] and held a special meeting there with that branch. Then we slept in the home of one of the saints. The next morning I said, ‘Spencer, I don’t know what the Brethren have in store for you but someday I expect to see them move you up!’ It was only a few months after that that he was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.”
Call to the Twelve
Spencer’s life abruptly changed in July of 1943 when he received a telephone call from President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., informing him of his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This news came as a complete shock to him because he did not live near church headquarters (in Salt Lake City, Utah) and did not have as much association with the Brethren as did many others in closer proximity. In his message to the assembled Conference in October of 1943, Spencer reminisced about his experience:
I feel extremely humble in this calling that has come to me. Many people have asked me if I was surprised when it came. That, of course, is a very weak word for this experience. I was completely bewildered and shocked. I did have a premonition that this call was coming, but very brief, however. On the eighth of July, when President Clark called me I was electrified with a strong presentiment that something of this kind was going to happen. As I came home at noon, my boy was answering the telephone and he said, “Daddy, Salt Lake City is calling.”
I had had many calls from Salt Lake City. They hadn't ever worried me like this one. I knew that I had no unfinished business in Salt Lake City, and the thought came over me quickly, “You're going to be called to an important position.” Then I hurriedly swept it from my mind, because it seemed so unworthy and so presumptuous, and I had convinced myself that such a thing was impossible by the time that I heard President Clark's voice a thousand miles away saying: “Spencer, this is Brother Clark speaking. The brethren have just called you to fill one of the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.”
Like a bolt of lightning it came. I did a great deal of thinking in the brief moments that I was on the wire. There were quite a number of things said about disposing of my business, moving to headquarters, and other things to be expected of me. I couldn't repeat them all, my mind seemed to be traveling many paths all at once—I was dazed, almost numb with the shock; a picture of my life spread out before me. It seemed that I could see all of the people before me whom I had injured, or who had fancied that I had injured them, or to whom I had given offense, and all the small petty things of my life. I sensed immediately my inability and limitations and I cried back, “Not me, Brother Clark! You can't mean that!” I was virtually speechless. My heart pounded fiercely.
I recall two or three years ago, when Brother Lee was giving his maiden address as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ from this stand, he told us of his experience through the night after he had been notified of his call. I think I now know something about the experience he had. I have been going through it for twelve weeks. I believe the brethren were very kind to me in announcing my appointment when they did so that I might make the necessary adjustments in my business affairs, but perhaps they were more inspired to give me the time that I needed of a long period of purification, for in those long days and weeks I did a great deal of thinking and praying, and fasting and praying. There were conflicting thoughts that surged through my mind—seeming voices saying:
“You can't do the work. You are not worthy. You have not the ability”—and always finally came the triumphant thought: “You must do the work assigned—you must make yourself able, worthy and qualified.” And the battle raged on.
I remember reading that Jacob wrestled all night, “until the breaking of the day,” for a blessing; and I want to tell you that for eighty-five nights I have gone through that experience, wrestling for a blessing. Eighty-five times, the breaking of the day has found me on my knees praying to the Lord to help me and strengthen me and make me equal to this great responsibility that has come to me. . . .
I know that this is the Church and Kingdom of God. It has been a part of me. Whenever it has prospered I have gloried in it. When it was criticized, it has hurt me, for it seemed a part of my very being. Every fiber in my body bears witness that this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness. I testify to you that this is the work of God, that Jesus is the Christ, our Redeemer, our Master, our Lord, and I bear testimony to you in all sincerity and in deepest humility.
Further description is recorded in his diary (and biography). For six days after receiving the call, Spencer suffered great mental and spiritual anguish, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. Then he made up his mind to obtain help from heaven. He headed for some nearby mountains (at the time he was visiting a son in Boulder, Colorado):
No peace had yet come, though I had prayed for it almost unceasingly these six days and nights. I had no plan or destination. I only knew I must get out in the open, apart, away. I dressed quietly and without disturbing the family, I slipped out of the house. I turned toward the hills. I had no objective. I wanted only to be alone. I had begun a fast.
The way was rough, I wandered aimlessly and finally came to the top of the hill. I nearly stepped on a snake coiled on my path. An unexplainable sudden strength sent me into a high jump over his striking head. Could this be symbolic of my other worries and problems? I stopped to rest, thinking that here I was alone, but cows were near and people stirring in the homes below. Over the little ridge was a sloping little valley and on the other side the high mountain rose rapidly and farther up almost precipitously to a high peak far above. Without thought I found my way down and started up again on the other side. The grass was ankle high and the seeds fell into my shoes. The lower reaches had been pastured by cattle when it was wet and it was pitted with deep hoofprints. The rocks on the hillside increased in quantity and size.
My weakness overcame me again. Hot tears came flooding down my cheeks as I made no effort to mop them up. I was accusing myself, and condemning myself and upbraiding myself. I was praying aloud for special blessings from the Lord. I was telling Him that I had not asked for this position, that I was incapable of doing the work, that I was imperfect and weak and human, that I was unworthy of so noble a calling, though I had tried hard and my heart had been right. I knew that I must have been at least partly responsible for offenses and misunderstandings which a few people fancied they had suffered at my hands. I realized that I had been petty and small many times. I did not spare myself. A thousand things passed through my mind. Was I called by revelation? Or, had the Brethren been impressed by the recent contacts in my home and stake when they had visited us, or by the accounts of my work in the flood rehabilitation which reports I knew had been greatly exaggerated in my favor? Had I been called because of my relationship to one of the First Presidency?
If I could only have the assurance that my call had been inspired most of my other worries would be dissipated. I knew if the Lord had revealed to the Brethren that I was to be one of His leaders, that He would forgive all my weaknesses and make me strong. I knew full well that He knew all the imperfections of my life and He knew my heart. And I knew that I must have His acceptance before I could go on. I stumbled up the hill and onto the mountain, as the way became rough. I faltered some as the way became steep. No paths were there to follow; I climbed on and on. Never had I prayed before as I now prayed. What I wanted and felt I must have was an assurance that I was acceptable to the Lord. I told Him that I neither wanted nor was worthy of a vision or appearance of angels or any special manifestation. I wanted only the calm peaceful assurance that my offering was accepted. Never before had I been tortured as I was now being tortured. And the assurance did not come.
I was getting higher and the air was thinner and I was reaching some cliffs and jagged rocky points. I came to a steep slide area and it was almost impossible to make the grade. I stumbled over an old oak stick which I picked up. I broke off one end and it was exactly the right length for a cane. It was rough and a little crooked and worm-eaten in places, but it helped me climb. I stopped to catch my breath in a protected cove behind some large rocks but unsatisfied I continued to climb, up steep jagged rocks made the more difficult of scaling by my tear-filled eyes.
As I rounded a promontory I saw immediately above me the peak of the mountain and on the peak a huge cross with its arms silhouetted against the blue sky beyond. It was just an ordinary cross made of two large heavy limbs of a tree, but in my frame of mind, and coming on it so unexpectedly, it seemed a sacred omen. It seemed to promise that here on this cross, on this peak, I might get the answer for which I had been praying intermittently for six days and nights and constantly and with all the power at my command these hours of final torture. I threw myself on the ground and wept and prayed and pleaded with the Lord to let me know where I stood. I thought of my Father and Mother and my Grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, and my other relatives that had been passed from the earth for long years and wondered what part they had had, if any, in this call, and if they approved of me and felt that I would qualify. I wondered if they had influenced, in any way, the decision that I should be called. I felt strangely near them, nearer than ever in my life.
I mentally beat myself and chastised myself and accused myself. As the sun came up and moved in the sky I moved with it, lying in the sun, and still I received no relief. I sat up on the cliff and strange thoughts came to me: all this anguish and suffering could be ended so easily from this high cliff and then came to my mind the temptations of the Master when he was tempted to cast Himself down-then I was ashamed for having placed myself in a comparable position and trying to be dramatic. I looked out over the beautiful world below, stretching out to the horizon, with its lovely homes, fertile fields and prosperous businesses and I was reminded that I had had a small part of that world and was in a position that I could get more and more of it, and that I was asked to give up a part of it; then I was filled with remorse because I had permitted myself to place myself again in a position comparable, in a small degree, to the position the Saviour found Himself in when He was tempted, and I was filled with remorse because I felt I had cheapened the experiences of the Lord, having compared mine with His. Again I challenged myself and told myself that I was only trying to be dramatic and sorry for myself.
Again I lay on the cool earth. The thought came that I might take cold, but what did it matter now. There was one great desire, to get a testimony of my calling, to know that it was not human and inspired by ulterior motives, kindly as they might be. How I prayed! How I suffered! How I wept! How I struggled!
Was it a dream which came to me? I was weary and I think I went to sleep for a little. It seemed that in a dream I saw my grandfather and became conscious of the great work he had done. I cannot say that it was a vision, but I do know that with this new experience came a calm like the dying wind, the quieting wave after the storm is passed. I got up, walked to the rocky point and sat on the same ledge. My tears were dry, my soul was at peace. A calm feeling of assurance came over me, doubt and questionings subdued. It was as though a great burden had been lifted. I sat in tranquil silence surveying the beautiful valley, thanking the Lord for the satisfaction and the reassuring answer to my prayers. Long I meditated here in peaceful quietude, apart, and I felt nearer my Lord than ever at any time in my life.
But there is more to this story. To a group of missionaries, within a year or two of his call, Elder Kimball felt impressed to share one further precious detail that he had not included in the diary account given above. A sister missionary in attendance, later passed on to her grandson (who preserved the account) what President Kimball had shared with them. The grandson’s account noted: “She told me that because of the caliber of missionaries he was addressing, Elder Kimball felt at liberty to speak more freely than the Brethren generally do about the sacred and solemn interviews involved in calling an apostle and qualifying him to stand as a special witness of the Lord Jesus Christ in all the earth. He told them a story familiar to many of us—of the anxiety and the inadequacy he felt; of the nagging doubt that he had been called, not by revelation, but because he was the grandson of President Heber C. Kimball; and of his flight to the mountains, amid fasting and prayer, to seek a witness from the Lord that the call had come from Him and not from man.” This information summarizes the preceding quotation from Elder Kimball’s biography fairly well. Then the account continues: “This [apostle] revealed an additional and dramatic detail about how that witness came. President Kimball . . . saw the Lord Jesus and heard from the mouth of the Savior Himself the soul-cheering affirmation, ‘I have called you to be my witness to the world. Doubt not, but be of good cheer.’” (As far as I have been able to determine, this further detail, of Jesus appearing to his newly called apostolic servant at that time, is not generally known in the Church.)
So we find that along with receiving a vision of his grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, and also of beholding the Lord Jesus, who gave him perfect verbal assurance of his call, Spencer Kimball became fully qualified, upon apostolic ordination, to become a special witness throughout his ministry.
Between the time he was notified of his call by President Clark, and the time of his ordination, Spencer visited with President Clark in his office, recording his feelings in his diary: “I called on Pres Clark. He was not crowded [busy] so much and he talked long and intimately to me mostly regarding my future association with the Church and the brethren and what would be expected of me. There seemed to be no reserve and he seemed to place himself on my equal. He also is a great man as also Pres. McKay. I am electrified with the very presence of these men of power—these Prophets, Seers, and Revelators. What a privilege to be on intimate terms with such strong leaders.”
As to the specifics of his ordination, he said: “I knelt at the feet of President Heber J. Grant, our Prophet, Seer and Revelator, and his hands, together with the hands of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and the Patriarch, were placed on my head and I was ordained an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Elder Kimball had barely been in the Quorum of the Twelve for some six weeks when, during a Quorum meeting in mid-November, he participated in the excommunication of Elder Richard R. Lyman for adultery. This event emotionally devastated him and his associates in the Quorum and the First Presidency (see the chapter on Elder Petersen for further information).
Ministry to the Indians/Lamanites
In his patriarchal blessing Spencer had been told he would preach the gospel to the Lamanites, but not much happened until President George Albert Smith called Elder Kimball into his office and said: “I want you to look after the Indians—they are neglected. Take charge and watch after the Indians in all the world.”
Within weeks, the devil manifest his displeasure for the work that Elder Kimball was to accomplish among them. He wrote: “It seemed that an unknown enemy was trying to destroy me. He was unseen but very real. I was not afraid in the ordinary sense of the word. It was a deep fear of the unknown, something or somebody one could not wrestle with. It was bleak and black and fearsome. I sweat and fought and fought and sweat and then remembered the temple program and for the first time in my life invoked the power of the Priesthood in that particular way and relief came to me. As I pondered over it for days and relived it in a measure, I wondered if I was marked for destruction by the enemy of all righteousness—if I might be getting into a program which would upset the plans of the god of this world.”
This service, among those whom he considered to be descendants of Lehi, became something of an obsession with him. He visited their homes and reservations, organized missions in their midst, and spoke about them in General Conference many times. He believed they had a great destiny and would one day step forward and fulfil it (I counted at least thirteen General Conference talks by Elder Kimball about the Lamanites). Elder Kimball and Elder Ezra Taft Benson became known in the Church for constantly addressing their two favorite subjects—the Lamanites for Elder Kimball and anti-Communism for Elder Benson. For years members knew they would likely hear about these subjects from these men at Conference time.
Health Issues Plague Him
In May of 1948, while touring an Indian reservation with a local church leader, their car became stuck. In the process of pushing and pulling it out of the mud, Elder Kimball overly strained himself and experienced a heart attack (his first but not his last) which began a series of serious health issues that often returned to haunt him. Heart problems, throat cancer, and brain issues plagued him throughout the rest of his life. His diary entry from September of 1948 represents repeated conversations about slowing down and conserving his health, something he was never really able to do:
Pres. Smith was just coming in and he invited me into his office. He told me about his [own mental] breakdown of health long years ago and how careful he had had to be. He urged me to be most careful and not come back to work until I was quite sure I was sufficiently recovered. He said that I need not speak in the General Conference next week, but if I did, it should be very limited to conserve my strength. He suggested that I not try to attend all the sessions. As I stood up to leave his office Pres. Smith stood also and came near me and said they all loved me and the Church loved me and he drew me to him, put his arms about my shoulders and kissed my forehead. I was humbled by his action and his sweet spirit.
I then went in to see Pres. J. Reuben Clark Jr. who received me warmly. He urged me to be sure I was well enough before I resumed my labors. I told him what the Doctor had said and he asked me if I would attend Conference and if I wished to speak. I told him I should very much like to attend the Conference if they thought it wisdom, but because of the intense strain, I should be glad to be relieved of speaking in the Conference this time. Pres. Clark was kind enough to say to me that “you are too valuable to the Church” and urged me to take great care that I had no relapse. And as I left the room he walked with me to the door and put his arm about my shoulder. I did so much appreciate the apparent goodwill of these Brethren.
Eventually a throat operation removing cancerous vocal cords would change his vigorous voice to little more than a harsh and raspy whisper, limiting his public speaking ability. He suffered intense pain while recovering from his heart and throat operations, which discouraged him deeply, but he eventually dug himself out of depression and persevered.
Bearing His Special Witness of Jesus Christ
Despite health problems interrupting his apostolic ministry throughout his later life, Elder Kimball’s testimony was not diminished: “I want to bear testimony today that Jesus is not only a great teacher, a great humanist, and a great dramatist, but is in very deed the Son of the Living God, the Creator, the Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind. I want to testify further that he not only lived in the Meridian of Time for approximately thirty-three years, but that he lived eternities before this, and will live eternities beyond it.” He also declared:
We bear witness with the Prophet Joseph Smith who was willing to give his life for his testimony, which comes to us in his own words as follows:
I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two personages, and they did in reality speak to me; . . . I have actually seen a vision, and who am I that I can . . . deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it, at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. (History of the Church, Vol. I, pp. 7,8.)
I repeat my testimony: I know that Jesus, through eternities past and future, is the Creator, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Son of God.”
Of special note, in one of his 1956 addresses, he commented on how he visualized the Savior, indicating that while of some value, artists depictions were insufficient for him personally: “In my own office at home and at the Church Office Building I have rather large pictures of Jesus as he has been portrayed by artists. I appreciate them, but they do not give me the complete or acceptable picture of the Lord, and no picture I have ever seen is adequate. I can never see the Christ with my eyes open. I must close them to get my concepts of him.” Further, “Oh, I love the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that I can show to him and manifest my sincerity and devotion. I want to live close to him. I want to be like him, . . .”
As with his apostolic associates, Elder Kimball found that his calling and office brought him admiration and adulation from members that he must be wary of. He commented: “In a hotel in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania long years ago, I learned an important lesson when the president of the Rotary International said to the district governors in the assembly: ‘Gentlemen: This has been a great year for you. The people have honored you, praised you, banqueted you, applauded you, and given you lavish gifts. If you ever get the mistaken idea that they were doing this for you personally, just try going back to the clubs next year when the mantle is on other shoulders.’ This has kept me on my knees in my holy calling. Whenever I have been inclined to think the honors were coming to me as I go about the Church, then I remember that it is not to me, but to the position I hold that honors come. I am but a symbol.”
Elder Glen L. Rudd (formerly of the Seventy), who occasionally traveled with Elder Kimball on assignments to visit stakes, shared a choice experience with him:
On Sunday evening [in 1962] following the Cumorah Stake conference, Elder [Spencer W.] Kimball asked if I would be willing to stay over and go with him to the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah the next morning. Of course, I agreed.
It was a magnificent Monday morning. President Rossiter drove us out of the Joseph Smith home, and the three of us were joined by the caretaker, Brother Stephen R. Boswell. We then walked across the street and down the path toward the Sacred Grove. Elder Kimball used his pocket knife to cut a limb from a tree which he used as a walking stick as we moved along.
When we got to the Sacred Grove, we reverently entered and began talking in whispers. The caretaker told us there were only three trees left that were growing on the day of the first vision. The rest of the trees had sprouted since that most significant morning.
Elder Kimball sat under one of the three trees and invited us to sit on some of the roots which were protruding above ground. As the four of us sat there, Elder Kimball handed me a small triple combination and said, “Bishop, read to us what Joseph wrote about that morning in this sacred place.” I turned to the Pearl of Great Price and read the account of the First Vision. I read it slowly and carefully. It was a special experience. When I finished, Brother Kimball stopped me. At this point he suggested that we stand and sing, “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer.”
I shall never forget singing that wonderful hymn on that special occasion. Elder Kimball then asked if we would join him in prayer. He asked permission to be the one to offer the prayer. To me, this was one of the truly great moments of my life. On that morning we heard an Apostle express his feelings to the Lord. It was marvelous to kneel by his side and hear him thank God for what happened on that spot in the spring of 1820. Rarely in my life have I heard anyone pray so earnestly and so sincerely. My heart was pounding. The years have come and gone, and I have never forgotten the great feeling of reverence I had that morning in the Sacred Grove with one who was to become the Prophet of the Lord.
At the April 1964 General Conference, Elder Kimball gave an address that hinted that he had seen the Lord Jesus Christ. The talk centered around a scriptural dissertation about seeing God: knowledge necessary to qualify, who had qualified, how the devil interfered, how the man was protected by the priesthood and transfiguration, what was communicated, and more. “It must be obvious then that to endure the glory of the Father or of the glorified Christ, a mortal being must be translated or otherwise fortified,” he taught. “There is a protective force which God brings into play when he exposes his human servants to the glories of his person and his works.” . . . “When properly protected with the glory of God, and when sufficiently perfected, man can see God.” . . . “Under special need, at special times, under proper circumstances, God reveals himself to men who are prepared for such manifestations”—the vision or personal appearance of Deity to His mortal servants. After relating experiences received by Old and New Testament prophets and apostles, and also the First Vision received by Joseph Smith and later visions, Elder Kimball bluntly stated the following, which captured his own personal experience as well: “Men who know God and love him and live his commandments and obey his true ordinances may yet in this life, or the life to come, see his face and know that he lives and will commune with them.” So it was that Elder Kimball offered a hint to listeners with ears to hear and hearts to understand; the Spirit would bear record to them but not to others.
A Precious Dream
In a Quarterly meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, held in 1957, while speaking to his beloved apostolic associates, Elder Kimball “recounted to them a dream of a visit from my deceased father.” The dream came while he dealt with deeply concerning health problems; while he pondered his life and a possible death. “I tried to piece together my bits of knowledge to anticipate what the life beyond the grave was like,” he said. “There came back to me vividly a hallowed experience when about a year ago my own father, Andrew Kimball, came to me.” Speaking of this to his brethren, he said,
It seemed I stood in the room with other people around me. Then I saw him, my father. My father was a handsome man, tall, straight, young, in his sixties, with dark, piercing eyes and a commanding appearance, and there he was, not a vague apparition, but so real and so lifelike, so much like himself. I called to him, “Oh, Father, Father, it is so good so see you.” He had a radiant smile such as he had had in his life. It warmed me and inspired me. I was pulsating with gladness. I could not understand why others could not see him, he was so clear and distinct and pleasing. “Oh, my beloved father!” He said no word, and now he seemed to be moving away gradually. He had been only an arm’s length from me. Now he faded out of the picture and was gone.
I awakened and lay hours, reliving the beautiful dream and the satisfying vision again and again. I did not want it to pass from my memory. I went to my desk and wrote it in my journal and went back to bed, lying quietly in the darkness musing and reliving this hallowed experience.
So vivid it was that I felt sure it had some meaning. I was not sure for what purpose it had been given to me. . . .
And so I have been grateful through the years for that sweet moment. If it did nothing more for me than to more completely connect mortality with immortality, it served a good purpose. As I have contemplated these months the exquisite joy which came to me in this reunion with my earthly father, I came to anticipate the infinitely greater happiness the possible meeting of my Lord and Savior and our Eternal Father. . . .
Somehow after this, the future, whatever it was, did not look so bleak and nebulous. There settled down over me a comfort and a peace which, except in a few weak moments, has never left me.
During another period of deep introspection, as he again thought about his mortality and his throat problems, he wrote to a son: “I leave with my children and others my testimony. I know. How more completely could I know anything? I know that it is true and divine. And as I face the end of my days I say it again and again without fear and in total honesty.” But Elder Kimball’s days were not yet ended.
Becomes President of the Church
In late 1973, with the unexpected death of President Harold B. Lee, Spencer became the President of the Church. Of this change in leadership, Elder McConkie said:
When President Lee passed he was attended by President Marion G. Romney, his second counselor, and President Spencer W. Kimball, the President of the Council of the Twelve. President N. Eldon Tanner was in Arizona at the time. Brother Romney, as the representative of and counselor to President Lee, was in complete and total charge at the hospital. He gave President Lee a blessing. He felt the spirit of peace and satisfaction, the calm assurance that whatever eventuated would be right. He did not promise President Lee that he would be healed. The President had become ill very rapidly, just in a matter of hours or moments. Shortly after this blessing, he passed away. At the moment he passed, Brother Romney, in harmony with the system and the established tradition and custom of the Church, stepped aside, and President Spencer W. Kimball was then in complete charge and had total direction. President Kimball was at that moment the senior apostle of God on earth. And as the last heartbeat of President Lee ceased, the mantle of leadership passed to President Kimball, whose next heartbeat was that of the living oracle and presiding authority of God on earth. From that moment the Church continued under the direction of President Kimball.
President Kimball, because of many health problems, had not expected to outlive President Lee, but in the Lord’s providences, and after experiencing open heart surgery under the skilled hands of Dr. Russell M. Nelson in 1972, he did. Dr. Nelson, who later became an apostle and then President of the Church, received a powerful spiritual experience while operating: “I shall never forget the feeling I had as his heart resumed beating, leaping with power and vigor. At that very moment, the Spirit made known to me that this special patient would live to become the prophet of God on earth.”
At President Lee’s funeral, President Kimball said: “President Lee has gone. I never thought it could happen. I sincerely wanted it never to happen. I doubt if anyone in the Church has prayed harder and more consistently for a long life and the general welfare for President Lee than my Camilla and myself. I have not been ambitious. I am four years older than Brother Lee (to the exact day, March 28). I have expected that I would go long before he would go. My heart cries out to him and for him. How we loved him!”
President Kimball had only been president for a short time when his heart began giving him further problems. Dr. Russell M. Nelson again told the story: “He had been president of the Church at the time about seven months. His heart was acting up that Saturday afternoon. (I had done heart surgery on him in April 1972.) I went out there and found his heartbeat to be grossly irregular—really out of time.” Dr. Nelson decided to take him to the hospital for further tests. “He was obedient as he usually is. On the way to the hospital he said, ‘Now, Brother Nelson, it would be a great disservice to the Church if I were to die this soon after being ordained as President of the Church. You have got to see that I stay alive a long time yet.’”
At the April, 1974, General Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball was reported to have said the following:
The Lord has revealed to men by dreams something more than I ever understood or felt before. I heard this more than once in quorum meetings of the Council of the Twelve when George F. Richards was president. He was the venerable father of Brother LeGrand Richards who has just spoken to us. He said, “I believe in dreams, brethren. The Lord has given me dreams which to me are just as real and as much from God as was the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, which was the means of saving a nation from starvation, or the dream of Lehi who through a dream led his colony out of the old country across the mighty deep to this promised land, or any other dreams that we might read in the scriptures.
The above quotation is not exactly correct, as poorly rendered by a church editor and printed in the church magazine and conference report, and now online as well. In this paragraph, President Kimball quotes President George F. Richards, but the editor confused who said what and also changed a few words. This is not surprising because President Kimball’s presentation of his message was also confusing for these few lines. It is corrected as follows; the brackets indicate correct attribution and the bold text indicates missing words:
[President George F. Richards:] “The Lord has revealed to men by dreams something more than I ever understood or felt before.” [President Kimball:] “I heard this more than once in quorum Quarterly meetings of the Council of the Twelve when George F. Richards was my president of the Council of the Twelve. He was the venerable father of Brother LeGrand Richards who has just spoken to us. He said,” [President Richards:] “I believe in dreams, brethren and sisters. The Lord has given me dreams which to me are just as real and as much from God as was the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, which was the means of saving a nation from starvation, or the dream of Lehi who through a dream led his colony out of the old country across the mighty deep to this promised land, or any other dreams that we might read in the scriptures.”
(See also George F. Richards’ original 1946 conference report, which is what President Kimball was quoting.) President Kimball quoted President Richards for the first sentence, but the editor missed the correct attribution.
President Kimball then finished quoting from President Richards, and also President George Q. Cannon, using the former words of both men to establish and convey further meaning to those with ears to hear and hearts to understand:
[President Richards:] “It is not out of place for us to have important dreams,” he said. “And then more than 40 years ago I had a dream which I am sure was from the Lord. In this dream I was in the presence of my Savior as he stood mid-air. He spoke no word to me, but my love for him was such that I have not words to explain. I know that no mortal man can love the Lord as I experienced that love for the Savior unless God reveals it to him. I would have remained in his presence, but there was a power drawing me away from him.
“As a result of that dream, I had this feeling that no matter what might be required of my hands, what the gospel might entail unto me, I would do what I should be asked to do even to the laying down of my life.
“And so when we read in the scriptures what the Savior said to his disciples, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: … I go to prepare a place for you … that where I am, there ye may be also.’ (John 14:2–3.) I think that is where I want to be.
“If only I can be with my Savior and have that same sense of love that I had in that dream, it will be the goal of my existence, the desire of my life.”
Elder George Q. Cannon, who was in the presidency of the Church at one time, said this: “I know that God lives. I know that Jesus lives; for I have seen Him. I know that this is the Church of God, and that it is founded on Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. I testify to you of these things as one who knows—as one of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ that can bear witness to you today in the presence of the Lord that He lives. . . .”
Brethren and sisters, we come now to the close of this great conference. You have heard from most of the Brethren, as I have said, and their testimonies have been inspiring. What they have told you is true. . . .
Brethren and sisters, I want to add to these testimonies of these prophets my testimony that I know that He lives. And I know that we may see him, and that we may be with him, and that we may enjoy his presence always if we will live the commandments of the Lord and do the things which we have been commanded by him to do and reminded by the Brethren to do.
Then several years later, in the April 1978 General Conference, President Kimball again adopted the words of another to express his own similar special witness: “ ‘I know that God lives. I know that Jesus Christ lives,’ said John Taylor [George Q. Cannon], my predecessor, ‘for I have seen him.’ I bear this testimony to you brethren in the name of Jesus Christ.” (The use of President Taylor’s name was an error, with President Kimball actually meaning President George Q. Cannon, as he had in the earlier address.)
During the historic special meeting on Thursday, June 1, 1978, in the Salt Lake Temple, the issue was discussed at great length, and a strong spirit of decisive unity began to prevail among the First Presidency and Twelve that the priesthood restriction placed upon black men should be lifted. After the discussion, President Kimball asked if he could be voice in prayer, and importune the Lord for a revelation, a clear answer. Of this prayer Elder McConkie wrote: “The Lord took over and President Kimball was inspired in his prayer, asking the right questions, and he asked for a manifestation.” And so it happened: “While President Kimball prayed, the revelation came. When he ceased to pray, there was a great Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit such as none of those present had ever before experienced. There are no words to describe what then happened. It was something that could only be felt in the hearts of the recipients and which can only be understood by the power of the Spirit.” The perfectly understood message of the revelation: “President Kimball announced to the Presidency and the Twelve that the decision had been made that the priesthood should now go to the Negroes and to all men on the basis of personal worthiness.”
President Kimball shared his testimony of his experiences in seeking the Lord’s will on this important matter: “We had the glorious experience of having the Lord indicate clearly that the time had come when all worthy men and women everywhere can be fellow-heirs and partakers of the full blessings of the gospel. I want you to know, as a special witness of the Savior, how close I have felt to him and to our Heavenly Father as I have made numerous visits to the upper rooms in the temple, going on some days several times by myself. The Lord made it very clear to me what was to be done.”
More recently, Elder Quentin L. Cook shared his feelings about this supernal revelation: “We are incredibly grateful for the revelation to President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church in June 1978. I have served with many of the Twelve who were present and participated when that precious revelation was received. Each of them, in personal conversations, confirmed the powerful and uniting spiritual guidance President Kimball and they had experienced. Many said it was the most powerful revelation they had received before or after that time.” He also noted, “Many of the Apostles indicated that the revelation was so powerful and so sacred that any words used to describe it would be insufficient and, in some ways, would diminish the deep and powerful nature of the revelation.” (Perhaps that is why even Elder McConkie, as gifted and inspired with the use of language as he was, wrote, “there are no words to describe what then happened” [see above]).
The receipt of the revelation was announced to the world and later included in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2. The mind and will of the Lord had been given. (See here for further information about the receipt of the revelation.) Aside from the main purpose of this revelation, it also had the effect of further strengthening and deepening his special witness. When President Kimball bore testimony, it was absolutely sure and beyond all question or doubt; his special witness set forth eternal truth.
The Special Witness of a Prophet of God
During his remaining years of vigor as the President of the Church, he was able to bear his special witness in print and by hoarse raspy voice to the Church and the world. He testified, “God, our Heavenly Father—Elohim—lives. That is an absolute truth. All four billion of the children of men on the earth might be ignorant of him and his attributes and his powers, but he still lives. All the people on the earth might deny him and disbelieve, but he lives in spite of them. They may have their own opinions, but he still lives, and his form, powers, and attributes do not change according to men’s opinions. In short, opinion alone has no power in the matter of an absolute truth. He still lives. And Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Almighty, the Creator, the Master of the only true way of life—the gospel of Jesus Christ. The intellectual may rationalize him out of existence and the unbeliever may scoff, but Christ still lives and guides the destinies of his people. That is an absolute truth; there is no gainsaying.”
Again: “Our Father lives; his Son lives. I am so sure of this that I am willing to bear witness of it with the last effort of my tongue and lips. I am willing to go into eternity and face my God with this testimony on my lips. Of these truths I bear witness. . . .” And finally: “I know that the Lord has contact with his prophets, and that he reveals the truth today to his servants as he did in the days of Adam and Abraham and Moses and Peter and Joseph and the numerous others throughout time. The countless testimonies of the Brethren throughout the ages are positive and uniform, uplifting and faith-building and hope-building, and they encourage worthiness. God’s messages of light and truth are as surely given to man today as in any other dispensation.”
With the advent of the early 1980s, President Kimball’s health declined until he died November 5, 1985. However, it seems that even in his declining years, when he wasn’t able to be as alert and cognizant as he once was, the Lord still spoke through him. President Russell M. Nelson shared this story about President Kimball in March of 1985:
Don’t you believe for a moment that just because he is in his ninety-first year and he is not [thinking] as well as he did when he was ten years younger, that he still is not known of the Lord and serving as the prophet of God. He is there and he infuses his spirit and his influence and his direction many times. We agonize (in the meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve) many times as we meet with the First Presidency on very difficult situations. I remember one day when President Kimball was in attendance and was a little bit dozy. The discussion was going on and President Hinckley said, “Well, I wish President Kimball could give us some direction on this.” President Kimball snapped to attention and he gave exactly the direction that was needed. That closed that issue right then and there. It was just a marvelous manifestation of the fact that God speaks through him as his mouthpiece.
 Conference Report, October 1943, 18.
 Video recording transcript (excerpts), “LeGrand Richards: The Man and His Missions,” Produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1983.
 Regarding the background of his call, wherein his name was presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and sustained by them, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote in his diary: “I attended the meeting of the Apostles and their assistants at 8:30 and at ten o’clock met with the First Presidency and Apostles in the Presidents’ Office where President Heber J. Grant set apart Elder George Albert Smith as President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. He also presented the name of a brother to fill one of the two vacancies in the Council, which was unanimously approved, although we are not at liberty at this time to mention his name [Spencer W. Kimball]. He is from one of the southern stakes. The name of someone to fill the other vacancy [eventually Ezra Taft Benson] was not mentioned.”
 Conference Report, October 1943, 15.
 https://www.familysearch.org/photos/artifacts/5299320 Accessed 7/12/2020
 Spencer W. Kimball diary, September 30, 1943.
 Conference Report, April 1944, 144. President George F. Richards’ diary account relates: “At 10:00 a.m. the Twelve met the Presidency in their office in the Church Office Building and Pres. Grant ordained Spencer Kimball and Ezra T. Benson apostles and set them apart members of the Quorum of the Twelve.” Likewise, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith’s diary reads: “At Ten o’clock the council of the Twelve and the Patriarch met in the President’s office and President Heber J. Grant ordained and set apart Elders Spencer Woolley Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson as Apostles and as members of the Council. After instructions and remarks by President Grant, the brethren assembled in the Temple, according to custom, and held the regular meeting.” President Grant would have given the new apostles what is called “The Apostolic Charge.”
 For further recounting of the episode by Elder Kimball, see Edward L. Kimball & Andrew E. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977), 208-10.
 Kimball & Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 237
 Ibid, 237-38. In the temple, Satan claims the title of being the god of this world, in the sense of being in charge of the unrighteousness that fills it. In truth, Jesus Christ is the Creator and God of the planet Earth.
 Spencer W. Kimball diary, September 28, 1948.
 Conference Report, October 1958, 58.
 “In the Sacred Grove with Elder Spencer W. Kimball,” as quoted in Glen L. Rudd, Treasured Experiences of Glen L. Rudd (Privately Printed, Salt Lake City, 1995), 129-30.
 Conference Report, April 1964, 98.
 Correspondence, Spencer W. Kimball to Andrew Kimball, July 14, 1976. President Boyd K. Packer indicated that Elder Kimball felt that his father came to him in this dream to let Spencer know that he approved of his life. (See Lucille C. Tate, Boyd K. Packer: A Watchman on the Tower [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 286; another account of this dream, with slightly more detail, is found in Kimball & Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 302.)
 Kimball & Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, 304.
 Bruce R. McConkie, “Succession in the Presidency,” BYU Speeches, January 8, 1974.
 “Spencer W. Kimball: Man of Faith,” Ensign, December 1985.
 Spencer W. Kimball, “A Giant of a Man”; Address delivered at Funeral of President Harold B. Lee, December 28, 1973, in Ensign, February 1974.
 Russell M. Nelson, “A Call to Serve,” Salt Lake Institute of Religion Fireside, March 31, 1985, 7.
 “The Cause is Just and Worthy,” Ensign, May 1974.
 Conference Report, October 1946, 139.
 “The Cause Is Just and Worthy,” Ensign, May 1974.
 “Strengthening the Family—the Basic Unit of the Church,” Ensign, May 1978.
 “Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets,” Ensign, May 1977.
 Regarding one of the few exceptions, that of Elijah Abel being ordained to the Melchizedec priesthood, “President John Taylor said it seemed that in his case it was probably like many other things done in the early days of the Church, such as baptism for the dead; at first, persons were baptized without records being taken and as the Lord gave further light and revelation things were done with greater order; but what had been done through lack of knowledge, that was not altogether correct in detail, was allowed to remain. He thought that probably it was so in Brother Abel’s case; that he, having been ordained before the word of the Lord was fully understood, it was allowed to remain” (Journal History of the Church, June 4, 1879).
 See Abraham 1:26-27. Some academics dispute the meaning of these verses.
 No written revelation directing implementation of the restriction has been located, although it is unknown if the minutes and other private records of the First Presidency have been consulted for the relevant years. However, revelation often comes to prophets as clear and definite promptings or impressions or whisperings of the Spirit to the heart and mind, conveying direction and knowledge; such may well be the case here. There is no question that the Lord implemented and continuously upheld and sustained the restriction, as stated in Official Declaration 2—“those from whom the priesthood has been withheld.” See also the diary of President George Q. Cannon, who recorded, on March 1, 1900: “I had a conversation very early in life with President John Taylor, who told me what the Prophet Joseph had said upon this subject. I related it today to the Council. He [Joseph] told him [John] that the seed of Cain could not hold the priesthood, . . .” Also: “President Taylor had repeated to me a conversation he had had with the Prophet Joseph on this question, and one of the points of the conversation was that the negro could not hold the priesthood” (George Q. Cannon diary, August 18, 1900). And further (August 22, 1895): “I related what I had heard in my boyhood as coming direct from the Prophet Joseph. It was related to me by President Taylor, . . . for this reason, as I had always understood, the negro race have been debarred from the Priesthood.” For a detailed review of this matter, see here, and the “Race and the Priesthood” Gospel Topic essay on the Church’s website.
 The Journal History of the Church states the following, under date of October 9, 1947: “Elder Joseph Fielding Smith called attention to the report of the Council of the Twelve under the date of April 23, 1940, reporting on an assignment given by this Council regarding permitting a person to receive the Priesthood who has any degree of negro blood, at which time it was the recommendation of the Twelve that the ruling of the past being that a person with the slightest degree of negro blood cannot receive the Priesthood.” Further: “In connection with this discussion Brother Joseph Anderson, at the request of the First Presidency, read to the Council excerpts from minutes of the Council meeting held May 28, 1879 and June 4, 1879, in which this matter of ordaining to the priesthood brethren with colored blood in their veins was discussed at considerable length and which minutes give among other things a copy of a blessing under the hands of Joseph Smith Sr. upon Elijah Abel, a negro.”
 Spencer W. Kimball diary, October 9, 1947.
 Spencer W. Kimball diary, October 20, 1947; also: “On motion, duly seconded, it was the decision of the Council that negroes who are faithful members of the Church are entitled to patriarchal blessings” (Journal History, October 9, 1947.
 Memorandum to President Spencer W. Kimball from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, June 30, 1978, entitled, “The Receipt of the Revelation Offering the Priesthood to Worthy Men of all Races and Colors,” 1-7; copy in author’s possession.
 Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, chapter 22.
 Ibid, note 11.
 Some apostles, including Elder David B. Haight and President Gordon B. Hinckley, did attempt to describe what they experienced to some degree; see these accounts as quoted in Dennis B. Horne, Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life and Teachings (Roy, UT: Eborn Books, 2000), 151-67.
 “Absolute Truth,” Ensign, September 1978.
 “President Kimball Speaks Out on Testimony,” New Era, August 1981.
 Nelson, “A Call to Serve,” 7.