The below questions (in bold) were submitted to me for answer by Kurt Manwaring of the “From the Desk” website. This version of the interview, as given below, is considerably expanded from the version posted on his website, which eliminated much of the more sacred content he felt less-appropriate for his reading audience. Also, his final question with answer is found here, but not in the version there.
When President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke at Elder David B. Haight’s funeral, before relating a sacred spiritual experience he had shared with Elder Haight, President Hinckley said that he hoped he was not going beyond the bounds of propriety in sharing that precious experience. I have the same hope in sharing the material below—that I have not gone beyond the bounds of propriety in doing so. I take comfort in the counsel given by President Boyd K. Packer that more may be shared about deceased members and leaders than living ones. I do not wish to cast pearls before swine, nor give that which is holy unto the dogs, who turn again and rend. On the other hand, I do desire to build the faith of others, and keep certain precious matters from being largely lost to history. If no one knows about them they don’t do anybody any good. When studying the lives of faithful people, miracles and spiritual experiences naturally appear; “signs follow those who believe” as the scripture says.
While the below information is admittedly a little long, those who read till the end will be amply rewarded with minds and hearts edified and lifted concerning the things of the Spirit; they will feel to rejoice as I have and hopefully finish with stronger faith in Christ.
Who was Bruce R. McConkie’s father? How did he pave the way for a legacy of faith?
Oscar W. McConkie (Sr) is (sadly) virtually unknown in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ today, but in his generation he was a man of faith like unto Enoch and Elijah. In his profession he became a lawyer and a judge among other things. His church callings included serving as a bishop, in two stake presidencies, on high councils, as a stake mission president, and as a mission president. Yet this service does not tell the full story. I have come to know that as mighty as Elder Bruce R. McConkie was, serving faithfully in his calling as an Apostle—having many choice spiritual experiences and working miracles—his father Oscar was even greater in some ways than he. As Elder McConkie stated: “[He] was a very spiritual man. He had many visions and revelations. The Lord entrusted him with much knowledge. . . . [He] would have been qualified to fill any position in the Church but he did not for instance, happen to be called to be one of the General Authorities.”
When Oscar was ten years old, he remembered, “One day when I was ill, I asked mother for something to read, and she handed me the Book of Mormon. She told me that a glorious feeling, one she never could forget, came over her, and the Holy Ghost seemed to burn in her as by fire, and warmed every part of her being, and soothed and sweetened her, and she knew that she was blessed of the Lord, and that she had acted wisely in placing the Book of Mormon in the hands of her child. We had not been in Moab long until I had read the book through.” Oscar noted at one point that he had read the book thirty-six times.
Among his friends and associates Oscar counted James E. Talmage, J. Reuben Clark, Mathias Cowley, Joseph Fielding Smith, David O. McKay, Harold B. Lee, and many other general authorities and prominent Utahns. He occasionally dreamed of things that would happen to friends or acquaintances, often that included their deaths.
On March 28, 1946, he recorded: “Pres. McKay called me on the telephone. I went to his office and he told me I was the unanimous choice of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve for President of the California Mission. When I left, he put one arm around my shoulders, took my hand with his other hand, and pulled me to him. We walked that way out of his office and out into the hall. I was to leave on May 1, 1946.” Oscar McConkie served as one of the finest mission presidents in the Church. When Elder Harold B. Lee toured President McConkie’s mission, he said that “more great spiritual experiences were taking place there than anywhere else in the Church.”
President McConkie’s mind was filled with the things of the Spirit and the gospel, which he often pondered: “One day in the California Mission, as I pondered the mysteries of godliness, and the great price that all must pay in order to understand them, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, my spirit cried out within me, and I asked if I had hope of salvation. Now, I knew of the promises of the Lord concerning me, but I knew of my imperfections; wherefore, I cried out from my soul and from the depths of it. And the voice of the Spirit came to me again, and said, my tithing and the payments of it, are in aid of my salvation. Wherefore, I rejoiced that I had obeyed the law of tithing, that it might be an assistant to save my soul, if God wills that it may be saved. I thus know that the payment of tithing balances the scales of the faithful in aid of salvation.”
On his release, President McConkie was invited to speak in general conference, in effect giving him the opportunity for a homecoming talk. Because that conference was recorded and is available to listen to, so is Oscar’s message, which starts at 1:42:34 minutes in. Being a gifted orator, he begins slowly but builds to an impassioned and powerful crescendo that leaves hearers strengthened in faith and testimony. At 1:50:26 Oscar McConkie relates a precious spiritual experience he had while praying for greater faith to fulfill his calling. He speaks of hearing the voice of the Lord in his mind while praying and relates what was said to him. While scriptural only to him, the truth given relates to all.
As far as a potential call to the Apostleship was concerned, it was made known to Oscar, by vision, that in order for this to occur, one of the present Quorum members would have to die before their time, and Oscar was unwilling to accede to that. Yet, as stated, he enjoyed the same kinds of supernal spiritual experiences that they did. In a personal memoir, Oscar McConkie wrote: “The week previous to May 21, 1935 . . . I saw a glorious vision in which I saw the Savior of the World.” And that was not the only time such happened to him.
Among many other miracles found in the life of this man of faith in Christ, was the raising of his son from the dead for a brief time. To a group of his former missionaries, he related the following account:
My son James was near death in Minneapolis. I flew there to be with him and spent many days in fasting and prayer in his behalf. His wife and many people did likewise. Apostle Henry D. Moyle said that his spirit was in the spirit world for three hours, and President McKay, President J. Reuben Clark, and President Joseph Fielding Smith said they concurred.
I was at the hospital, and God verified to me that my son was dead. I was waiting to see what God would have me do. James’ spirit was in consultation with spirit world authorities to determine whether James should stay there or return to mortality. He was told by them that he had the choice since men on earth had promised him that he might live.
As I walked in the hall, backward and forward, the voice of the Lord came to me, asking that I go quickly and bless my son. The nurse told me that she had not been able to find his pulse for three hours.
I obeyed. As I was preparing to enter his room, the Lord spoke again, saying, “He never disobeyed you in life, and he will not do it now.”
Thus, you see the relationship between a father and his son after one has gone through the spirit world and the other remains in mortality. I spoke as the Lord commanded on earth, and my son in the spirit world heard my voice and obeyed. He came back from the dead. As man might say, “pursuant to the direction of God.” It was for a special purpose.
After a day or two, he returned to the spirit world, the purpose of the restoration of his life having been accomplished. His spirit literally gave life to his flesh after the flesh was dead because both father and son had right reason and because each had a right spirit. My son had searched for the fountain from which truth springs, and he had found it. Oh how great are the mysteries of Godliness.
At James’ funeral, Elder Henry D. Moyle, Presidents J. Reuben Clark Jr., and David O. McKay spoke, and Elder LeGrand Richards dedicated the grave. In his talk, President McKay made this extraordinary statement, “I think he [James] can hear us. I have never attended a service in which the nearness of the other side seemed so real. . . .” Oscar later noted that “some of the things that Pres. McKay said” were not in the transcript of his address, and that President McKay had “scratched out some of the things he said at the service.” Oscar remembered: “For instance, he said there were many spirits present at that service, and as he said it I thought he looked as though he was seeing them. I do not say more, except that he said many were present.” President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was in attendance on the stand, told Oscar “that he had not seen such an outpouring of the Spirit in a funeral service for thirty-five years, which is the length of time since his father, Pres. Joseph F. Smith was buried.”
Oscar also indicated that “The greater number of the General Authorities of the Church were at the service.” Further, “Henry Moyle said that he had no difficulty in knowing what to say, that his only difficulty was in the control of his emotions. Every speaker was under an emotional strain. Pres. Clark’s heart was touched deeply. Pres. McKay broke down several times.” What a sweet experience for all present; obviously the veil was thin that hour.
Oscar loved and was always loyal to the Brethren. Elder Harold B. Lee noted in his journal that Oscar showed him a marked deference of humility. He knew the prophets were indeed prophets.
Oscar recorded a conversation he had with President J. Reuben Clark, around the time that President Clark was mulling some political aspirations. “I said to Pres. Clark: ‘I see by the papers that you are toying with the idea of running for the senate.’ He said: ‘I don’t know what I am going to do.’ I said: ‘I do.’ He laughed and said, ‘If you know you are the only one who knows.’ I said: ‘Well, I know and I’ll tell you. When the Lord called you into the First Presidency He was very much in earnest about it.’ Later, the latter part of June, 1934, he wired the State Republican Committee of his refusal to run.” Oscar had some political aspirations himself and ran for Governor of Utah as a Democrat, but lost.
While reminiscing about Elder James E. Talmage, Oscar penned the following: “I dreamed that I heard Dr. Talmage speaking over the radio. He was at the very time delivering a series of talks on the radio for the Church. In my dream, he stopped speaking, tried to clear his throat, and was silent, never to speak again. The Spirit told me that it was the end; that he would now be interrupted even before the series of talks were over. He died in a day or two.
“During this illness [of Elder Talmage’s], July 26, 1933, sister Talmage telephoned me to come and help Pres. J. Reuben Clark administer to [Elder Talmage]. Dr. L. A. Stevenson was there. Pres. Clark asked me to consecrate the oil, and said: ‘and I want you to rub some oil on his stomach and around his heart.’ I intended to obey, but said to [Elder Talmage] ‘would you like me to anoint your body around the afflicted parts as well?’ ‘No, that is no part of the ordinance. I may have that done at times, but it is no part of the ordinance, and I desire the ordinance only.’ Pres. Clark sealed the anointing. My impression was not favorable. When we were outside, I said: ‘Pres. Clark, I hope I was not disobedient.’ He said: ‘No, that was exactly right. I heard you ask him.’ I said: ‘I was afraid to do as you requested without first mentioning it to him. You know Dr. Talmage.’ He said: ‘say, I know Dr. Talmage better than all the rest of you combined. I was his secretary for seven years.’ It was the next night that I dreamed as in the paragraph above stated. I told [my wife] the morning after the dream, that Dr. Talmage’s voice was stilled forever in this life. Dick Carlyle was at our house that day, and said his grandfather’s heart stopped during the night, at 3 am. When I was there the evening before I thought I could hear his heart scraping on something. I called Pres. Clark on the telephone and he said sister Talmage had given him an unfavorable report. I was seized upon with great sorrow, and on bended knees wept as I prayed for his life. I went to the Talmage home and [a]. . . son-in-law said: ‘He has just gone.’ . . . I sought seclusion and wept, uncontrolled.” These spiritual giants in the Church had great love and esteem for each other.
Oscar authored two published books, one of which was on the subject of the Holy Ghost. He described how that work came about: “I spoke for 45 minutes by appointment, in an upper room of the Temple, on the subject, ‘The Holy Ghost.’ The Stake Presidency and the High Council, [of the] Ensign Stake, plus the presidency of the High Priests quorum were the audience. . . . I spent 100 hours in preparation. I wrote in my diary that I had never before experienced such an outpouring of the Spirit as upon that occasion, with it sustained for so long a time. Some of the brethren expressed regret that they could not have my remarks in writing. That was the beginning of the actual writing of the book, ‘The Holy Ghost.’”
When the manuscript was finished, Oscar took it to a couple of the Brethren to have it read and informally approved: “Joseph Fielding Smith and Dr. John A. Widtsoe approved the book, the Holy Ghost. Dr. Widstoe had [initially] disapproved it as contrary to Church doctrine, and pointed out a dozen or so places where the book (manuscript) was contrary to the doctrines of the Church. The manuscript was . . . opposite to some of the doctrines that Bro. Widtsoe had written upon the subject of the Holy Ghost. I talked with Joseph Fielding Smith and he said the doctrine was correct, and he approved my suggestion that I see Dr. Widtsoe. I took the manuscript, the pages were written on one side only, and I copied from the revelations exact quotations on the back of the opposite sheet, what the Lord had said about the particular question. Thus, I had the word of the Lord on each item. I went to Dr. Widtsoe and proved my point, point by point. He said that he always understood the manuscript to be correct but had wondered whether others would understand it. He thought it would raise a lot of questions. He offered to write, with Bro. Smith, a Foreword, but I said I should not ask that since they were on the Reading Committee for the Church it might be interpreted as Church approval of the book, and I understood the Church actually approved the Standard Works only.”
Oscar gave his son Bruce a father’s patriarchal blessing. Of this occasion he wrote: “I gave him a blessing, at which time I saw that his spirit was one of those noble and great ones, chosen to perform a mighty work. I told him that his calling was a special one, to which he was chosen before he was born. He was a leader in the [pre-existent] spirit world, and was ordained before he was born to be a leader there. I said, ‘All men who know you will look to you for counsel and for witness of the truth.’ When I typed the blessing I questioned whether that statement was too strong and whether I should modify it, but the Spirit forbade me, and commanded to leave it as it was, for it was spoken by the Spirit. I saw that he would have great wisdom, surpassing almost all men, and many revelations, and that the Lord would manifest himself unto him, and the elements would obey him; that he would be very helpful to many, even beyond the seas, and that in the Lord’s due time he would have salvation with his house; that great numbers would be able to understand the truth because of his words; that his wisdom would be very great; that his understanding would reach to heaven; that he was ordained to be one of the elect of God, and that he would receive a fulness of his promises.” All of these promises came to plentiful fruition in Elder McConkie’s life. And such a man also was Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s father Oscar.
This is what is recorded of some of what Jesus said in His prayers to the Father, offered before the Nephite multitude: “The things which he prayed cannot be written. . . . And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak” (3 Nephi 17:15-17). Then, “on the morrow,” the multitude “both saw and heard these children; yea, even babes did open their mouths and utter marvelous things; and the things which they did utter were forbidden that there should not any man write them” (3 Nephi 26:16).
After a lengthy supernal spiritual experience of unspeakable magnitude, Elder David B. Haight said that, “There are things that happened to me that I am not able to reveal. I would not have words to express them.”
After having it revealed to him in great power and clarity that the Book of Mormon was true, and probably also seeing Jesus at the same time, Elder Boyd K. Packer recorded: “I could not describe to you what happened if I were determined to do so. . . . It was, as Brother McConkie often said, ‘beyond my power of expression.’”
In his patriarchal blessing, Oscar W. McConkie was told that “Many things shall be revealed unto thee that shall not be lawful to be told the human family.” In fulfillment of that inspired promise, he noted that many things had indeed been made known to him that were not lawful for him to share—so he didn’t.
What were Bruce R. McConkie’s scripture study habits?
Elder McConkie famously said that he didn’t really have any. Dr. Truman Madsen once asked him what his secret was in studying the scriptures, and Elder McConkie replied that he simply read them. That was the key: reading them, studying them, drinking deeply from them—and not drinking below the horses, metaphorically speaking. This latter expression meant that a gospel student was far better off reading the word of God itself than reading what someone else said that word meant. The clear sweet spring water tasted so much better at the source, than after the horses have trampled around in it downstream—and done other things. We have some so-called academics and scholars in and out of the Church today that seek to tell us what the revealed word means and often their views fit Elder McConkie’s metaphor well.
But Elder McConkie did encourage gospel students to pray about what they read in the revelations. His oft-stated formula was to study the scriptures, ponder them, and then ask the Lord in faith for greater understanding (this is for those who already know they are true). He explained this process in some detail:
I wonder how many people actually pray for knowledge. If somebody wants knowledge, ordinarily they get a textbook. They start reading about it and seeing what somebody else said on the subject. Or they start evaluating the scriptures. It is essential to do that. As a matter of fact that’s tremendously important in that it lays a foundation to prepare for something more. What we are supposed to be doing is praying for knowledge. Suppose you want to know something about baptism. How would you get knowledge about what is involved in baptism? You would study everything that you can about baptism. You study all the revelations that God has given on the point. You would study the comments and explanations that have been made by people who were wise and inspired and had sense and judgment in their analysis. And so you would have before you the whole picture. Number one—you would study. Then number two—you would ponder in your heart, and you would evaluate, and you would wonder and meditate and contemplate and weigh this passage against that passage [of scripture] and wonder what the full meaning was.
There are those among us who go this far. But there aren’t very many among us who take the next step. The next step is that you go talk it over with the Lord. You ask Him what is meant by this, that, or the other thing, in baptism. You have done everything that you can do to get an understanding of whatever the subject is. You have studied the revelations; you have pondered them in your heart; you have sought the best wisdom that men have; then you have to get some knowledge from the Spirit. The doctrine we are reading about is—“If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God” [see James 1:5]. So you go to the Lord, and you have a specific problem before you, and you talk to him about the subject of baptism, and in faith you plead with Him to give you some knowledge on the subject. All of a sudden the little conflicts begin to vanish away, and things that weren’t in perspective fall into perspective. You get a vision and a view and a concept of baptism that you never before conceived of even though you’ve read everything that was written and you had evaluated all these things. The reason is that now you are getting your knowledge direct from the fountain. Before you were drinking downstream. You were drinking downstream after it had gone a great distance from the fountain and been diverted here and there. You had this and that perspective, but finally you got back to the fountain. This is something we don’t practice, but which we ought to practice. We ought to get knowledge, revelation, wisdom, from God.
On another occasion he reiterated this concept:
The Lord says: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118.) Now I wonder why the Lord chose that particular phraseology, why he said, “even by study and also by faith”? Is he saying that the great way to get knowledge is by faith and the incidental way is to get it by study? Is he evaluating the relative importance of faith and study? . . . I wonder if the counsel to seek learning “even by study and also by faith” means that the Lord wants us to take learning and education and knowledge and let these be the foundation and the springboard from which we rise to the heights of greater faith. On this basis, the more knowledge we have, the more information we acquire, the more learning we obtain, the more wisdom we possess, then the greater is our potential for having faith. . . . There is no question that the ultimate way to get knowledge in the spiritual realm or in any realm is by faith. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). That is the principle. That is the great emphasis. The prophet says you can know more by gazing into the heavens for five minutes than you can by reading all the books on the subject. But the thing about it is, nobody seeks God, and nobody gazes into heaven for five minutes, and nobody does the spiritual things that enable him independently to get faith and knowledge by revelation, until he first has the knowledge of how to go about doing that sort of thing. Unfortunately we sometimes don’t get the needed knowledge, and when we do get the knowledge sometimes we don’t use it to make it a living thing in our lives. . . . There is no power in knowledge as an abstract thing. The power that is in knowledge comes when it is used. So, we get knowledge about religion, and we use it, and faith blossoms and grows and becomes a real power in our hearts.
Such is Elder McConkie’s inspired counsel. Yet he also repeatedly warned about reading certain worthless theological books and commentaries. He knew the value a good quality commentary had and wrote many of them himself, but he also knew the harm a scripture commentary based on worldly scholarship could inflict, as they caused unsuspecting readers to drink far below the horses instead of at or near the fountainhead.
Over and over he counseled gospel students not to drink from the muddy and contaminated water found in the writings of liberal unorthodox intellectuals, that infuse the philosophies of the world or the academy or false portions of science into their writings. This fearless and bold approach; these warnings to avoid the views of the world (especially when taught by member academics) tended to earn him the wrath of many such individuals (who still criticize him today)—but he cared not. Pure saving truth was all important and that was found in the standard works.
Elder Packer had much to say about Elder McConkie, the Spirit of the Lord, and those in and out of the Church who criticized him:
Would his sermons leave any uncomfortable? Would his bold declarations irritate some in the Church? Would they inspire the critics to rush to their anvils and hammer out more “Fiery darts” as the scriptures call them? Would his manner of delivery offend? Would his forthright declarations in content or in manner of presentation, drive some learned investigators away? Would he be described as insensitive or overbearing? Would his warnings and condemnations of evil undo the carful work of others whose main intent was to have the world “think well of the Church?” . . . We have talked of this and when he was tempted to change, the Spirit would withdraw a distance and there would come that deep loneliness known only to those who have enjoyed close association with the Spirit, only to find on occasion that it moves away. He could stand what the critics might say and what the enemies might do, but he could not stand that. He would be driven to his knees to beg forgiveness and plead for the renewal of that companionship of the Spirit which the scriptures promise can be constant. Then he would learn, once again, that what was true of the Holy Men of God who spoke in ancient times applied to him as well. He was to speak as he was moved upon by the Holy Spirit. What matter if it sounded like Bruce R. McConkie so long as the Lord approved. I knew him well enough to know all of that. (Source: Elder Packer’s address at Elder McConkie’s funeral.)
Elder McConkie was especially disappointed with some of those at BYU (and elsewhere) who filled their (supposedly) gospel-themed writings with the philosophies of men; a problem that continues today. Speaking of the sublime doctrines of the creation and the fall, and how these are found in the scriptures and in the temple presentation, yet are not correctly understood as they should be, Elder McConkie stated: “At this late date—knowing what we know and having what we have—we ought to envision more and believe more than most of us do. It is recognized that many among us are contaminated by the theories of men. These speculative views are everywhere trumpeted before us, often as though they were the ultimate ipse dixit of the universe.
“Even faithful saints—short on gospel knowledge and lacking real spiritual depth—are swept along by the tide of the world and suppose in their minds that the theories of men and the revealed word are somehow capable of being harmonized. Without knowing all that is involved, for instance, they assume, falsely, that the so-called evolutionary processes were and are used by Deity as the means of creating the various forms of life.”
In truth, he taught, the only way to learn how God created the earth and man and all things, was by revelation. He declared:
There are many truths that can be known only by revelation. God stands revealed or he remains forever unknown. Scientists may discover some of the laws of the universe and conclude that there must be a divine guiding power governing all things. But no man can know, except by revelation, that God is a Holy Man with a body of flesh and bones, that he lives in the family unit, and that he is the personal father of the spirits of all men.
Scientists may discover some of the laws pertaining to creation. They may come to know that creation is reorganization, that the primal elements are arranged in an appointed way to form an earth, and that the laws of physics and chemistry and gravity and what have you always apply. All this may be in the realm of research and reason. But truth-seekers can never know that this earth was first created spiritually; that when it first came into being physically it was paradisiacal in nature; that it then fell to its present mortal state; that there will be a new and changed heaven and a new and changed earth in the Millennial day; and that ultimately it will be a celestial sphere—none of this can be known except by revelation.
Nor can scientists envision the fall, or the atonement, or the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost, or the resurrection, or the procreation by resurrected beings of spirit offspring—all this must be learned by revelation. The theories of the evolutionists—devised by scientists, in academic halls, by the power of reason and the intellect—do not take into account that there was no death until Adam fell; they do not take into account that animals and all forms of life lived as spirit entities before their mortal births; they do not take into account that all forms of life will be resurrected and live forever in immortality. They do not take into account these or ten thousand other gospel verities that can be known only by revelation.
Revelation, both that found in the standard works and personal revelation, meant everything to Elder McConkie in the pursuit of knowledge.
Speaking of Elder McConkie upon his passing, Elder Packer queried and answered: “Where is Bruce McConkie now? He’s with his Lord.” And then he matter-of-factly stated: “When the refining process [the Celestial resurrection] is complete, I know something of how he will appear. He will be glorious.” Elder McConkie, as a resurrected being, will look just as Jesus appeared to Elder Packer—glorious!
And as a side note, Elder Packer issued something of a prophecy that has now long been true. He asked, “What will we do without him?” And then answered: “Others, of course, will receive the fiery darts fashioned on the anvils of the adversary, and in his own words, ‘The wagon train will move on.’ . . . If you heard the sermons of Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks at the last conference, you will know the Lord is preparing others as he prepared Bruce R. McConkie for the holy apostleship. . . .” (I think we can definitely say that Elders Nelsen and Oaks became noble and great Prophets of God.)
Did Elder McConkie have a sense of humor?
Yes, though it took him years to develop and it was rarely apparent at the pulpit which is where members came to know him. I will again let Elder Packer speak about him: “I have delighted in his sparkling sense of humor that few men could equal.” (Those interested in a healthy dose of McConkie humor might listen to one of his last major addresses, given at Rick’s College.)
What led Elder McConkie to write Mormon Doctrine and when did he begin writing the book?
I cannot say for sure what caused Elder McConkie to begin the mentally and spiritually strenuous work preparing his famous, best-selling, and superbly insightful book (that intellectuals constantly trash but that many of the faithful love).
As a young man he had written an informal commentary-like collection of notes on the Book of Mormon solely for his own benefit, but he threw away those extensive notes since they had served their purpose. Later, when a young member of the First Council of Seventy, he worked on passages from the Journal of Discourses, hoping to publish a ten-volume digest that removed false doctrines found therein. This project was halted by President J. Reuben Clark, who thought it presumptuous for a General Authority Seventy to be censoring (even deceased) apostles and prophets. I don’t think Elder McConkie fully agreed with Pres. Clark on the matter but without hesitation did as counseled. (Today we know that the sermons published in the Journal of Discourses were often altered by short-hand stenographers in the long-hand transcription phase and again in the preparation-for-printing stage, and therefore is not fully reliable as a record of verbatim discourses.)
On graduation from law school, Bruce worked in various legal capacities for a few years, but soon found he wanted to get away from the underbelly of society that lawyers often must deal with. He also desired to write professionally, something for which he had considerable talent. So he went to work for the Deseret News, where he wrote editorials and reported news.
In the 1950s Elder McConkie gathered and edited a collection of the teachings of his father-in-law, President Joseph Fielding Smith. Published in three volumes, Doctrines of Salvation was topically organized and covered a wide range of gospel subjects. I speculate that these early projects gave Elder McConkie the idea for Mormon Doctrine, but I cannot say for sure.
Did Bruce R. McConkie go against the wishes of President David O. McKay when he published a second edition of Mormon Doctrine?
Absolutely not. This is one of those falsehoods that sadly goes around, often promoted by those who don’t like Elder McConkie and despise his book. In his biography of his father, Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote: “On July 5, 1966, President McKay invited Elder McConkie into his office and gave approval for the book to be reprinted if appropriate changes were made and approved. Elder Spencer W. Kimball was assigned to be Elder McConkie's mentor in making those changes.” Joseph also queried: “Haven't you heard people say that Bruce McConkie had the book reprinted contrary to the direction of the First Presidency?” To which he answered: “Yes, but if they would think about it, that assertion does not make much sense. The publisher was Bookcraft, not Bruce McConkie, and Bookcraft was always very careful to follow the direction of the Brethren. It could also be noted that Mormon Doctrine was reissued in 1966, and its author was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1972. It takes a pretty good imagination to suppose that a man who flagrantly ignored the direction of the president of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would be called to fill a vacancy in that body.
“Whatever faults one might want to attribute to Bruce McConkie, no one who knew him could question his integrity or his discipline, particularly where matters of priesthood direction were concerned. Never in my life have I known a man who was more disciplined or obedient to priesthood direction. Bruce McConkie would have died a thousand deaths before he would have disregarded the prophet's counsel or that of the Quorum of the Twelve. . . . He followed counsel and minded his business. I have never met, nor do I expect to meet, a man more disciplined to the order of the priesthood. To suppose that he would reject the counsel of the president of the Church or the Quorum of the Twelve is to completely misrepresent the man and the truth.” Further, he wrote: “How do we know President McKay directed your father to reprint Mormon Doctrine? Response: My father told me that President McKay had so directed him. In addition to that, I am in possession of handwritten papers by my father affirming that direction.”
As another witness to the statements found above, the following is transcribed from an audio interview of Oscar W. McConkie Jr. (held on June 26, 2017), who worked for decades as a lawyer for the Church's legal firm:
When I determined to retire from Kirton and McConkie, I was in my 85th year. I went to the First Presidency meeting to advise the First Presidency. As always, President Monson was kind to me and praised my lawyering. This was at a time when a book had been published about President David O. McKay in which it was falsely stated that Bruce had republished his book Mormon Doctrine without President McKay’s consent. President Monson went out of his way to say, so that it would be in the recorded minutes of the First Presidency, "Bruce and I got President McKay’s permission to republish Bruce’s Mormon Doctrine."
Along with this evidence, I note that the biography of President McKay by Prince and Wright was strongly biased against Mormon Doctrine. It cherry-picked its sources and wrests them. It is apparent to me, and also puzzling, that while these authors had access to both my biography of Elder McConkie and also Joseph Fielding McConkie’s, they completely ignored both. Instead they put a liberal spin, including their own unjustified commentary, on the selected sources they did use, carefully not using those that disagreed with their anti-McConkie thesis. This is not scholarship, but smearing.
I quote below what I wrote elsewhere, in the “Bruce R. McConkie” chapter of my 2017 book I Know He Lives:
In 1958 Elder McConkie’s seminal encyclopedic work, Mormon Doctrine, was published. Because it explained gospel doctrines clearly and forcefully, it quickly became a very popular book with latter-day saints. However, the breadth of subjects covered (some outside the range of LDS doctrine), the authoritative tone in which they were explained, and the controversial nature of some of the content, caused the First Presidency to take a close look at it. Both Elders Marion G. Romney and Mark E. Petersen were assigned by the First Presidency to submit written reports on their findings after reviewing the book. These reports eventually led to a meeting between the First Presidency (then consisting of David O. McKay, J. Reuben Clark, and Henry D. Moyle), Elder Mark E. Petersen, and Elder McConkie, to discuss his best-selling book.
When they called Bruce in, they asked him to take a seat, but he said he would prefer to stand. Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve, present and accounted for during this meeting, did most of the talking. President Henry D. Moyle (the second counselor) indicated that on this occasion the First Presidency gave Bruce a “horsewhipping.” They were really hard on him and “raked him over the coals” for a period of time. He further indicated that it was the worst criticism that that First Presidency had ever given a General Authority; that he went home feeling badly that they had been so hard on Bruce—it was basically Mark E. Petersen doing the talking and the First Presidency going along with and backing him up in his criticisms of Bruce’s book; that Elder Petersen was the real force behind the (temporary) discontinuance of Mormon Doctrine; he was the reason the First Presidency gave it so much attention and why Bruce got in so much trouble over it. President Moyle indicated that Bruce simply listened to what they had to say, didn’t offer any arguments or protestations, said he had no questions at the end of the meeting when he was asked if he did, and he left. . . .
Elder Marion G. Romney really didn’t think that much was wrong with Mormon Doctrine, and President Joseph Fielding Smith didn’t think anything was wrong with it.
I have thought long and hard about why Elder Petersen didn’t like Mormon Doctrine and said he found more than a thousand errors in it. As I have read the doctrinal writings of each man, it has become apparent to me that they really thought very much alike, with very similar doctrinal views. They both denounced error and liberal intellectualism when they saw it, and the same errors in worldly philosophies. Many of their talks are similar in doctrinal content.
Joseph Fielding McConkie believed that Elder Petersen’s distrust of the JST (or the Inspired Version) of the Bible may have caused him to designate every use of that work in Mormon Doctrine as an “error.” This is not known for sure, but if that was the case, then such references would not be considered errors today when the JST is fully accepted and trusted and found in our Bibles.
Regarding the many unorthodox liberal members who have denigrated this volume, Joseph McConkie also wrote: “Even today, my experience suggests that his unequivocal stand on organic evolution is the primary reason the book has been criticized. Critics frequently attempt to give credence to their objection by finding fault with the author or the book on any count they can.” Joseph McConkie also wondered, in writing, how anyone could justify ignoring or discounting all that Elder McConkie ever said or wrote throughout his ministry, by stating that he (may have) got something wrong in Mormon Doctrine. To say that everything taught must be distrusted because someone is wrong about a few things, would surely make everything all of us say untrustworthy, for whom among us is perfect in all we say, write, or teach?
As with most all books, Mormon Doctrine eventually stopped selling and therefore went out of print some years ago. Critics crowed with glee when they learned it was no longer being stocked on bookstore shelves, and tried to advance the false narrative that it was because the Church was repudiating it. Quotations from it filled approved church manuals and General Authority talks for decades, but Elder McConkie will soon have been in the spirit world for 40 years and few church members under fifty-five remember him or know who he was (sadly).
Personally, I believe that with Elders Petersen and McConkie, while not close in mortality, that all is forgiven and forgotten in the spirit world where they both valiantly continue to serve the same kingdom and cause they did here.
Interestingly, President J. Reuben Clark may have prepared Elder McConkie for his trying experience meeting with the First Presidency after writing Mormon Doctrine. At the time of his call to the First Council of Seventy, President Clark said to him, “that I would get sat on [rebuked], but to take it in good stead, and wherein I was wrong to correct the errors, but that wherein I was right, not to worry about the rebuffs.” He seemed to follow that counsel well.
Who was the “young bishop” Matthew Cowley referred to in his “Miracles” talk, and how does he figure into Bruce R. McConkie’s life?
While now less known, Elder Matthew Cowley gave a very famous BYU devotional address in 1953. In this inspired oration, Elder Cowley spoke of participating in many miracles, including those of healing the sick and raising the dead by virtue of faith and the holy priesthood. Therein, Elder Cowley mentioned that he often took a young bishop with him when he visited hospitals to bless the sick. He did not name this bishop in the talk, but many years after first hearing a recording of this talk, I learned that the young bishop was Glen L. Rudd (later a general authority).
Glen Rudd served as a missionary under President Matthew Cowley in New Zealand, where they became close. Not many years after his release as a missionary, Glen became Bishop Rudd. Only a few months after President Cowley’s release as a mission president, he became Elder Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Cowley disliked church business meetings and often “played hooky” and took Bishop Rudd with him to bless the sick. While Elder Cowley enjoyed many gifts of the Spirit, his greatest gift was that of faith and he used it to bless the sick to marvelous effect. Many, some on death’s door, were healed under his priesthood administrations. His patriarchal blessing told him he would have the faith of the brother of Jared and that proved to be true. Bishop Rudd participated in or witnessed many marvelous manifestations of this mighty faith as they blessed the sick and afflicted together.
One day when Elder Rudd happened to walk by my office in the Church Office Building, he noticed my recently published biography of Elder McConkie on my desk and immediately wanted to talk about him. I then learned that he had been neighbors with Elder McConkie for years; their children had grown up together and they had gone on vacations together. We became friends and over the years I learned that Elder Rudd had been friends and close associates with most of the apostles and general authorities of the Church for the last half-century plus. It was Elder Rudd who told me what President Moyle had told him about the First Presidency’s dealings with Elder McConkie regarding Mormon Doctrine, as related above. Elder Harold B. Lee was like a second father to Glen Rudd. President Monson was one of his dear friends, as was Elder McConkie. When I visited with him and listened to him tell stories, or read his extensive personal writings and records, I felt almost like I was being informally invited into an inner circle of beloved faithful and valiant associates I would never personally know myself in this life.
Glen Rudd worked in the Welfare Department of the Church for decades and also served as a mission president and member of both the First and Second Quorums of Seventy, before being granted emeritus status and then living and living into his upper nineties. I attended his funeral some five years ago, where President Monson spoke tenderly about his beloved friend (and soon followed him to the other side).
What was Bruce R. McConkie’s role in the publication of the 1978 edition of the scriptures?
Chapters in both my and Joseph Fielding McConkie’s biographies of Elder McConkie cover this subject and his contributions in some detail. In short, he wrote the chapter and section headings for all the standard works, and did a great deal of work on the introductory material and the Bible dictionary. He, Elder Packer, and Elder Monson made up the Scriptures Publications Committee of the Church. There were sub-members of the committee working under them and the full Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve gave them oversight and final approval for major decisions. In my opinion, one way to know that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve agreed with and appreciated Elder McConkie’s doctrinal views was that they approved of them as found in the doctrinal entries of the Bible dictionary. Elder McConkie’s recommendation that two new sections be added to the Doctrine and Covenants (sections 137 and 138) were also approved and sustained.
Other suggestions he made, such as that the Lectures on Faith be added to the Pearl of Great Price, were not approved. Elder McConkie loved and often quoted from the lectures, but research was starting to come out that questioned the extent of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s involvement with them. Joseph Fielding McConkie shared Elder McConkie’s personal list of items, outside the standard works, that he considered inspired and therefore uncanonized scripture: “The body of manuscripts that Bruce McConkie regarded as scripture included measurably more than the standard works and the Joseph Smith Translation. His own list of scripture included the Wentworth letter, in which Joseph Smith briefly told the story of the First Vision and the coming of Moroni and to which he appended the Articles of Faith; the Lectures on Faith, which were published with the Doctrine and Covenants until 1921; the official Exposition of the First Presidency on the Origin of Man, issued in 1912; the Doctrinal Exposition of the First Presidency on the Father and the Son, issued in 1916; the King Follett Discourse given by Joseph Smith at a conference of the Church on April 7, 1844, and the similar discourse given in the Grove at Nauvoo in June of the same year. To him these documents could very properly have been added to our present canon.”
As hinted, Elder McConkie did in fact recommend to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that these named items be canonized. A mock-up of a proposed new expanded edition of the Pearl of Great Price was created, and even copyrighted by President Spencer W. Kimball, that contained these extra items (that Elder McConkie divided into verses), but ultimately went unapproved. (These doctrinal gems remain highly valued by orthodox gospel scholars today.)
Elder Packer declared that Elder McConkie had been raised up by the Lord to do this scriptural work and had a greater impact on the finished product than either he or Elder Monson (who was a printing specialist). One evidence that Elder McConkie’s contribution was so valuable lies in the fact that not many substantial changes were made in the revised 2013 editions of the scriptures.
Describe the last few weeks before Bruce R. McConkie’s death.
Those last few weeks are fairly well described in the two mentioned biographies (mine and Joseph’s) written about him. They include his final conference address and a number of blessings given him by his apostolic associates, his brother Brit (who until his passing was one of my mentors for twenty years), and his sons, along with members of the First Presidency.
What is not well known is that Elder McConkie believed he would be healed and resisted all contrary suggestions until almost the very end. He simply knew that in and of himself—not including other family and Quorum associates and friends—he had enough faith to be healed. And the fact is that he did. He stated it this way: “I have enough faith myself that the Lord can heal me. My family has enough faith that He could heal me, and my Brethren have enough faith that I could be healed. So it is not a matter of having faith anymore. It is simply a matter of where the Lord wants me the most.” As Amelia said, “He felt that he would be healed.” But in his case, after a temporary reprieve, it was to be otherwise.
At his funeral, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained the situation: “Without denying the faith of his loved ones, the Lord in His greater wisdom moved in another direction. The Lord put Elder McConkie where he was. The Lord has now taken him. The Lord placed him as an Apostle for a purpose. He has taken him for a reason.” At a previous funeral years before (that of his brother James), President Clark had shared this thought: “As I said to brother [Oscar] McConkie yesterday, I am persuaded that the Lord never gives us sufficient faith to thwart His purposes.”
Elder McConkie lived for well over a year after being told by his doctor that he could only live for a few weeks, which is ample evidence that all the faith and prayers in his behalf worked until all the Lord wanted him to do was accomplished.
He was originally diagnosed with colon (bowel) cancer. Both he and Amelia were caught off guard by this diagnosis. He recorded: “Unbeknownst to her, I overheard Amelia telling someone that, when the doctor opened me up, he found that the bowel cancer had spread beyond the liver and was in other parts of my body. In my then existing state of stupor and understanding, I gained the impression they had no alternative but to sew me up, as the expression has it.”
Further, and this is an example all faithful people should follow, he wrote, “Obviously I counseled with the Lord in repeated secret prayers, giving thanks for my many blessings and pleading fervently for those additional blessings Iso much desired. It came into my mind repeatedly to thank the Lord for his goodness and grace unto me and mine in days past and in the present hour. I thanked him for life itself; for giving me this mortal probation in which I might seek salvation and gain immortality and eternal life; for letting me be born in the dispensation of the Fulness of Times, when the fulness of the everlasting gospel was on earth; for my birth under the covenant as a natural heir to all of the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“I thanked him for my wife Amelia and for the choice spirits sent to us as our sons and daughters; for the fact they were all true to the faith; that they in turn loved the Lord and kept the commandments and were bringing up their children in light and truth; and for the love and peace and unity that prevailed in our family circle.
“I told the Lord that though I did not know all his purposes, and was not able to judge whether there was more need for me here in mortality or in the spirit world, . . . Accordingly, I pled that if it agreed with his will it seemed proper to me that I be left to serve in this sphere.
“I also told the Lord that I was in his hands; did not desire to run counter to his will; and would submit to any eventuality that he in his wisdom deemed proper. . . .
“Having so stated I asked, in faith, that I might have life and health and vigor and all my faculties that I might go forward in my ministry as long as it seemed good to the Lord for me to serve here. . . .
“Mindful of the prayers of my brethren of the Twelve, there came unto my heart the feeling that they were the best men on earth and that I had a great love for them individually and collectively. I resolved that I will never say a derogatory thing about any one of them, and that in all our deliberations I will speak discreetly, with restraint, and temperately, using the best wisdom and inspiration I can obtain.” (This musing puts me in mind of a statement in a talk by Elder Bednar some years ago, in which he also stated that he believed the First Presidency and Twelve are the best men on earth; I agree with them wholeheartedly.)
Continuing, Elder McConkie wrote: “Mindful of the faith and prayers of my family, I felt a renewed appreciation for each one of them and reaffirmed my determination to stand as a light and a guide to them, . . .
“I thought also of President Clark’s statement, made at the funeral of Elder Matthew Cowley, that no righteous man is ever taken before his time. I hoped I might qualify as one of those so acclaimed and that my time had not come.
“Out of it all I seemed to feel that all would be well; that I would live and minister among men; and that this was not to be the end of my mortal probation.”
And it was indeed not yet the end. When Elder Packer found out what Elder McConkie’s first cancer diagnosis was and how little time the doctor had given him to live, he called Amelia and told her, “I came to the conclusion that we cannot lose him, there is no one else in the Church at this time that can do what he does and what Bruce does is needed too much to let him go.”
And what were those things Bruce did? Elder Packer gave him a blessing in which he pled with the Lord to allow him to remain in mortality so he could preach, teach, and write, to the lofty levels and heights of insight, inspiration, knowledge, and understanding that this doctrinal giant could yet provide the Church. Both Elder Packer’s and Elder McConkie’s brother Brit’s blessings stated that there were those on the other side of the veil joining in faith and prayer that Elder McConkie could stay in mortality longer. Elder McConkie was administered to by Elders Maxwell, Faust, Packer, and President Hinckley, along with his own sons, among others. The Lord heard and granted his Apostle some extra time. But the cancer eventually came back with a vengeance. Elder McConkie lost his appetite and had other complications usual with cancer patients.
It was on February 18, 1985, that he wrote the bulk of his final conference talk, titled “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane.” He read it first to his Amelia, who stopped cooking an apple pie for him to listen. She remembered: “He began to read. . . . He was bearing testimony of Christ and his Atoning sacrifice, and it was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard him do. He was so touched himself the tears just streamed down his face. As he talked of a coming day in which he would be able to see and feel the wounds in the Savior’s feet and hands, and that his tears would wash his feet, I asked him if he had come to a conclusion that he was not to be healed, and he said no. Neither of us knew what the Lord’s will would be. Bruce’s words had brought a stillness to the table, a silence of sacred proportion which neither of us wished to break.”
Elder McConkie managed to get to the Tabernacle, and Elder Packer protected him from distractions that would drain his meager remaining strength as they found their seats. He spoke second, after President Ezra Taft Benson, and left after that first session concluded. As he left the Tabernacle, barely able to walk, President Hinckley took his arm and said, “You have done all that you can do. It is enough. The Lord asks no more. Go home and rest.” He did.
Yet he still believed he would be healed. As Amelia phrased it, “Many, including Bruce, still felt that the Lord’s healing hand could and would reverse the course.” At a family gathering he stated: “The work is true. I don’t care if I live or die as long as I do his will . . . but if I die, the burden will be upon your mother.” . . . “The Lord has blessed you and will continue to bless you.”
Elder Packer visited and told Amelia that “We witnessed a miracle in the extra year and four months we had Bruce after his first ‘sentence of death’ was pronounced. . . . But, the crowning moment came as Bruce spoke in conference. I felt this was the last thing he had to do to complete the work he had been called to do.”
Before he left, he gave Elder McConkie one last priesthood blessing. Amelia summarized what was said thusly: “Elder Packer recounted the purposes of mortality, reminding Bruce that we knew we would face trials and tests on earth and we had agreed to do so. He said that even now the Lord could heal him, that he could rebuke this disease, but if it was the Lord’s will to take him there was purpose in it. He counseled him to be meek and willing and not to fight against the Lord’s purposes. He talked of his great love for Bruce, telling him that he was closer to him than any of the other brethren, not that he loved them less, but because Bruce had taught him so much. He had learned about courage as he watched Bruce speak out even when he had to stand alone. Because of this, he too had more courage. He told him that he had been valiant and had done all that the Lord required of him. That he had been allowed to stay to deliver his testimony and that there was more power in that conference than any other in a long time. That he had lived a full, rich life. He told him that he would go over to the other side with the authority of the priesthood that he held. That his keys and position of Apostle would go with him.” More was said about Elder McConkie preaching the gospel in the spirit world, as is stated in D&C 138:57.
As Elder Packer left, Elder McConkie said to him, “Boyd . . . I love you. I didn’t want to die.” Elder McConkie then cried and told his wife that Elder Packer, in the blessing, had “sealed me up to die.” He also said, “I do not want to die, but if that’s what the Lord wants, so be it. We must do nothing more. It is in the Lord’s hands.” From then on, family were instructed to pray that he die, not that he live. And such soon became the case. (For those who don’t know, in earlier decades in the Church, it became a common practice, though it was never a formal ordinance, to seal someone up to death when blessing a critically ill person of faith. This practice is now discouraged and is seldom done, but when prompted, the inspiration of the Lord should be followed as Brother Packer did.)
Elder McConkie’s mother Vivian soon visited him and specifically requested that when he got to the other side of the veil, he would tell his father Oscar to come and get her, her bags were packed. Bruce died on April 19, 1985, and did as asked—and Oscar came and got her three weeks later.
What was the subject of Bruce R. McConkie's last talk in General Conference?
Elder McConkie’s final general conference talk (and final talk period) on the atonement of Jesus Christ, given in April 1985, is today considered one of the greatest and most famous ever given in the Tabernacle or in a general conference. This is not simply because of the unusually fine expressiveness of the language used, but really because of the power of the Holy Spirit that accompanied its delivery and the truths presented. It was an occasion where the Holy Spirit carried the message into the hearts of listeners almost as though an angel were speaking.
Elder McConkie had experienced something like unto this previously in his ministry. Of his April 1972 general conference talk, he said, “he [the Lord] poured out upon me and the whole congregation his Spirit in a manner far exceeding anything else that had ever happened to me in connection with any talk or sermon I have ever delivered. What I said on that occasion came from him so that the attending spirit carried the message into the hearts of people with convincing power.” His wife Amelia confirmed this statement with her own experience and impressions: “Bruce later shared with me that he felt the Spirit rest upon him as it never had before in his life’s experience. About halfway through his talk I became aware that there was an absolute stillness in the whole Tabernacle. The cameras that incessantly clicked during every other talk were quiet; there was not a cough or a movement; and every ear seemed tuned to each word he spoke. President Lee told him he had lifted up [the spiritual level of] the whole conference.”
After serving for some thirteen years (after that talk) as a special witness in the Apostleship, one can only imagine the even greater presence of the Spirit that accompanied his final testimony. Over the years, I have encountered statements and reminiscences from many people in attendance confirming how special and powerful that message was to them. There is no question the Lord used that occasion to strengthen many members’ testimonies of the living Jesus and His infinite atoning sacrifice.
For some reason unknown to and undiscoverable by me, the First Presidency (of that day) directed that no audio or video copies of this address be made from Church originals in their archives. There were a few video copies floating around that various members had made, but one could not obtain copies from the Church itself. The Church archivists I spoke with insisted they were not told why. I have speculated that the reason may have had something to do with the sacredness of the event and the emotion evident in Elder McConkie’s voice. He was gone only a little while later. Still speculating—perhaps they didn’t want critics easily mocking his beautiful and sacred testimony. This copying block was in place for many many years until general conferences were posted on the Church website, at which time it was lifted. Now anyone can watch and thereby be edified and rejoice.
What are your favorite Bruce R. McConkie quotes?
Among too many to include are these that make my soul sing because of the blessed truths in them:
The first of these gifts listed in our modern revelation on spiritual gifts is the gift of testimony, the gift of revelation, the gift of knowing of the truth and divinity of the work. This gift is elsewhere described as the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy. This is my gift. I know this work is true. I have a perfect knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. . . .
I know there is revelation in the Church because I have received revelation. I know God speaks in this day because he has spoken to me.
I asked the Lord what he would have me say on this occasion and received the distinct and affirmative impression that I should bear testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
I have what is known as “the testimony of Jesus,” which means that I know by personal revelation from the Holy Spirit to my soul that Jesus is the Lord.
Over the years I have felt the spirit of Inspiration many times and have had great truths revealed to me. There have been a few times when I have prevailed upon the Lord to speak to me and give counsel and direction in direct words.
Those who study, ponder, and pray about the scriptures, seeking to understand their deep and hidden meanings, receive from time to time great outpourings of light and knowledge from the Holy Spirit.
It is the practice of the Lord to give added knowledge to those upon whose hearts the true meanings and intents of the scriptures have been impressed. Many great doctrinal revelations come to those who preach from the scriptures. When they are in tune with the Infinite, the Lord lets them know, first, the full and complete meaning of the scriptures they are expounding, and then he ofttimes expands their views so that new truths flood in upon them, and they learn added things that those who do not follow such a course can never know.
I would hope that . . . [others] have had the same experience that has been mine on many occasions. In the spirit of prayer, while reading and pondering the holy word, new views, added concepts, truths theretofore unknown, have suddenly dawned upon me. Doctrines that were dim and hidden and little known, have, in an instant, been shown forth with a marvelous clarity and in wondrous beauty.
I have spent many hours poring over and pondering the scriptures. In seeking to learn the doctrines of salvation, I have studied, weighed, and compared what the various prophets have said about the same subjects. Time and again, after much praying and pondering about a given point, new and added concepts have burst upon me, showing deep and hidden truths that I had never before known.
[One of the above quotations includes Elder McConkie’s statement that the Lord had spoken to him. It so happens that Elder McConkie wrote down what Jesus said to him: “Thou art one of those whom I have chosen out of the world to stand as a witness of my name in all the earth and before kings and rulers.” Another was, “Thou art called to testify of my name unto the ends of the earth.” Of course all this was or came true.]
Bonus quotes from President Russell M. Nelson: “Elder Bruce R. McConkie was a great friend. His door was always open to me, and I frequently imposed upon his graciousness, asking him questions that possibly only he could answer.”
And: “Occasionally, I would have an idea I wanted to discuss or had a question. I would knock on his door, and he was always gracious, always warmly welcoming. When I could see this was an opportunity to learn from him, I would ask him to put his remarks on pause for a minute while I called Elder Oaks and asked him to come up so we could converse with Elder McConkie together. That was a rare privilege.”
Second bonus quotes from President Dallin H. Oaks (Pres. Oaks had asked Elder McConkie to review a temple dedication talk): “Then he enthusiastically and fervently clapped me on the shoulders with his huge hands . . . grinned his big grin and said, ‘But the best thing about this talk is that it shows the direction you are taking. It is a genuinely doctrinal talk. It is apostolic!” . . . “I was so pleased at this comment about my talk as I do wish to understand and expound doctrine, and there is no living Apostle whom I respect more in that sphere than Bruce R. McConkie. I told him I wanted to be one who preaches doctrine.”
And from a note to Amelia after Elder McConkie’s passing: “I read choice books a few pages at a time, so I can savor them and think about their implications. Proceeding in that manner, I have just finished reading A New Witness for the Articles of Faith. This is undoubtedly the most profound and inspirational doctrinal book I have ever read. It has and will have a great influence on my thinking and my ministry.”
What would you include in a theoretical third edition of Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life and Teachings?
This is a hard question that I can only begin to answer broadly. When dealing with the lives and experiences of prophets and apostles, one must balance the purpose of telling a life story with the issue of trying not to cross a line of sacredness. How does one deal with this complicated issue? Even the senior Brethren are not completely united on this question. One hopes and prays to be guided by the constraints and promptings of the Holy Spirit, and I have benefited from these on occasion in my writing, but sometimes the Lord leaves one to their own best judgment (which happens to me often). I have even had the Spirit direct me to sources that at another much earlier time would have been inappropriate to use (relating to a different project).
I provide this quotation from Elder McConkie, as he reviewed this very subject: “The sealed portion of the Book of Mormon contains a full account of the creation, which also is deliberately withheld from the world at this time, but which will be known again during the Millennium. There is no question that if it were revealed to the world, or even to the generality of church members, at this time, it would do more harm than good. Obviously it contains so much that is diametrically opposed to the accepted theories of the day, so much that those who are weak in the faith would not accept, so much meat for people who drink only milk, that it would drive the evolutionists in the Church even farther from the standard of truth than is now the case: The Lord in his infinite wisdom grants unto the children of men only that portion of truth which they are prepared to receive.” (See also another similar statement also well worth pondering.)
We might ask this question: why did the Lord instruct King Mosiah not to share his inspired translation of the Jaredite records—part of which contained what we know today as the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon—until the resurrected Jesus’ appearance in the Americas? And we answer: because it wasn’t until the aptly-nicknamed “golden age” of the Nephites when the wicked had been destroyed and those remaining were or began living in such a lofty faithful and valiant condition as to accept the knowledge that record contained—and not rebel against it, which would have happened if it had come forth earlier. Some relatively few would have been accepting (and thrilled) but so many more would not have.
The resurrected Jesus went so far as to tell His disciples that the Father precluded him from telling the Jews much about the Nephites because of their lack of faith and their iniquity. The reason He could tell the Nephites about the Jews was because they had sufficient faith and righteousness to be given that knowledge (see 3 Nephi 15).
Again, “The Lord in his infinite wisdom grants unto the children of men only that portion of truth which they are prepared to receive.” And further: “But if they do not seek the Spirit, if they do not accept the revelations God has given, if they cannot distinguish between the revealed word and the theories of men, they have no promise of gaining a fullness of truth by the power of the Holy Ghost.” So stated Elder McConkie and so it is.
We do not know today what manner of false doctrines, philosophies, and teachings were prevalent in Nephite and Lamanite societies (I doubt they had evolution), but Mormon tells us that such things were floating around all over the place at various times, misleading many. In other words, occasionally their society was often as unbelieving, unfaithful, corrupt, misguided, and contentious as ours. Their true Church had its “dissenters” (apostates) the same as ours. So they were all kept from reading the brother of Jared’s vision-record until they were worthy and spiritually prepared for it (after Christ’s visit), and in like manner we won’t get it until the Millennium (after Christ’s second advent and the destruction of the wicked then).
With all the contention and rejection of gospel truths and the commandments we see around us today (especially regarding LGBT matters), one wonders what portion of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would accept as precious scripture the translated content of the sealed portion if it were given us now—and what portion of the Church would reject it and rebel, thinking they knew more than God. (And what portion simply wouldn’t care.) We already have some academics and scholars doing this in and out of the Church today; how might the volume (both in decibels and quantity) of contrary voices multiply if these divine mysteries of the heavens were made known now? What did Jesus say to the Nephites?: “because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they [the Jews] understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them. But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.” What indeed has our general collective iniquity and lack of faith kept our current prophets and apostles from revealing to us?
We even have those (very few) among us who cannot keep the temple ceremony and ordinances sacred; what would they do with greater heavenly truths and knowledge? Mock and ridicule them of course (see 1 Nephi 8:27-28). These are reasons Elder McConkie is so very correct in what he says.
Today we have BYU biologists trying to teach other religious schools’ professors how to weave so-called “theistic evolution” into their curriculum; contaminating them even more than is already the case. Such is a sad state of affairs (and in our tithe-supported schools at that). As Elder McConkie observed, “We’re trying to be kind to all the evolutionists at the BYU, hoping that if given time and opportunity, they will repent and believe the gospel.”
I am confident that Presidents Nelson, Oaks, Eyring, and Ballard, in their biographies (and their conference talks), could have included much more in the way of doctrinal knowledge and sacred personal spiritual experience than they did, perhaps a hundred-fold or more—but most is wisely withheld. They found the best content balance they could and that is what we get and deserve; same goes with Elder McConkie. Speaking to this subject, he wrote: “I am sufficiently sensitive to the feelings and minds of many of the Brethren to know that they have seen and heard many things which they do not disclose.” Why?—for the very reasons we have reviewed. (This conference address from Elder Packer also touches on this issue.)
Hypothetically, if one of the many written revelations President Nelson has received from God dealt with LGBT members who break the law of chastity, how would such a revelation, if published or canonized, be received by many in the Restored Church who promote acceptance of such behavior? More loud disbelief and rebellion and gnashing of teeth of course.
And so it goes with one issue after another, where the philosophies of the world (Babylon) have made troubling inroads into the Church and even the elect are deceived. (On this general subject, see also here and here and here.)
I personally believe that many (perhaps most?) of the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as presently constituted (as well as in past decades), see visions, dream dreams, entertain angels, hear the voice of the Lord, see His face, feel of His presence, receive marvelous personal and church revelations, and participate in miracles as they serve the Lord in their ministries. And they all know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith was Their Prophet.
So I repeat: I hope I have not gone beyond the bounds of propriety in making these things public, but on the other hand, unless made known (after their deaths), they can’t do anyone any good; they can’t strengthen anyone’s faith. A complex issue indeed.