I am sure we have all been profoundly impressed by the very touching and complete word picture of the life of a great man, as perhaps only one who has been as closely associated as has President Bruce McConkie could give. I am sure that the family will want to treasure what has been said here as a part of their book of remembrance so as always to have it in their minds.
And President Tanner has given in conclusion one of the admonitions of President Smith that I would hope that all the family would read again and again, as a guideline to point you to the way where you will eventually be where he is now.
As we have been associated, particularly in the last two years as the counselors of President Smith, we have marveled at the clarity of his mind, the health of his body, the fact that he could speak well, and could walk without difficulty when most men at his age could have done neither. I have thought of two comments, one by President Brigham Young, and one said of the Prophet Moses that seemed to be directly applied to President Smith. It was said of Moses, who was a hundred years old when he died, “His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.”
President Young said this: “If we live our holy religion and let the Spirit reign, it will not become dull or stupid, but as the body approaches dissolution, the Spirit takes a firmer hold on that enduring substance behind the veil, drawing from the depths of that eternal fountain of life sparkling gems of intelligence, which surround the frail and shrinking tabernacle with a halo of immortal wisdom.”
This we have witnessed time and again, as we were engaged in discussing very serious matters—decisions that should only be made by the President of the Church. It was then that we saw this sparkling wisdom come to light as he recounted undoubtedly beyond his own present understanding things that he called up from the depths of his soul.
I have thought it might be appropriate, in speaking to this congregation today of the life and mission of President Joseph Fielding Smith, to say something about the titles by which he has been sustained by the body of the Church. Those titles have been “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.”
In the doctrines of the Church we have been told that only one man at a time on the earth can hold all the keys of the priesthood. Said the Lord, “… there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” (D&C 132:7), meaning the President of the Church, the prophet, seer, and revelator.
God’s government on earth requires revelation. As the apostle Peter said, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Pet. 1:20–21.) This has been amplified by a scholar of the Church in the early days of this dispensation, Elder Parley P. Pratt. This may be enlightening to those who would wish to understand the operations of the Church.
Parley P. Pratt said in a proclamation printed in the Millennial Star: “The legislative, judicial, and executive power is vested in him [meaning the Lord]. He reveals the laws, and he elects, chooses, or appoints the officers; and holds the right to reprove, to correct, or even to remove them at pleasure. Hence the necessity of a constant intercourse by direct revelation between him and his church. As a precedent for the foregoing facts, we refer to the examples of all ages as recorded in the scriptures.
“This order of government began in Eden.—God appointed Adam to govern the earth, and gave him laws.
“It was perpetuated in a regular succession from Adam to Noah; from Noah to Melchisedek; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, the prophets, John, Jesus, and his apostles. All, and each of which were chosen by the Lord, and not by the people.
“It is true, the people have a voice in the government of the kingdom of God. …
“But they do not confer the authority in the first place, nor can they take it away; for instance, the people did not elect the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, nor could they by popular vote deprive them of their apostleship.
“As the government of the kingdom anciently existed; so is it now restored.
“The people did not choose that great modern apostle and prophet, Joseph Smith, but God chose him in the usual way that he has chosen others before him, viz., by open vision, and by his own voice from heaven.” (Millennial Star, vol. 5, pp. 149–53.)
With reference to that title “Seer,” we have the words of an ancient prophet called Ammon. He said that “a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he possess the power of God.” (Mosiah 8:16.)
As we met with the family late Sunday night after word had come of the passing of our beloved leader, we asked the question, Did President Smith ever speak of or leave any instruction for his family or ourselves to be carried out after his passing? And they said in unison, “Father never talked of death. He frequently said, ‘I am perfectly willing to go when the Lord wants me. I don’t fear death.’”
In truth he was “soothed by an unfaltering trust.” As was said by the poet, he approached his grave “like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.” (William Cullen Bryant, “Thanatopsis.”) Indeed it might be said as did the poet, “God’s finger touch’d him, and he slept.” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memorium.”)
President McConkie has referred to the scripture about those “who die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them.”
I would like to make one further comment. Where this tasting of death may have had reference to the joy of the wonders of that heavenly realm to which the righteous will go, their reawakening indeed will be sweet in an eternity of joy; but in a physical and mortal sense, he did close his eyes in natural sleep, as has been explained, without struggle, without pain of any kind. How could one have wished for a more perfect ending of ninety-six years of purposeful living, with no sickness of any kind whatsoever which required him to be hospitalized even for one day. Think of it! For ninety-six years and never having been hospitalized for an illness.
A doctor related a statement made in a hospital room a short time ago by an elderly person beside whom he was sitting at a funeral service out in his home town. This man said, “It wouldn’t be so bad to die, if one didn’t have to get so sick to get there.” And I suppose some have said that it wasn’t the dying that worried one; it was the location that might have caused some concern. Neither of these worried President Smith. He went with a clear signal from the Lord. He was touched by the finger of God, and he slept.
The Lord has counseled, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.)
In Joseph Smith’s great sermon known as the King Follett Sermon, he made a statement that gives meaning to how long it may take for that perfectness; we will advance to certain stages here, but he made this further comment: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 306–307.)
That is what the Lord meant in a great revelation when he said, “Ye who are quickened by a portion of celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.” (D&C 88:29.)
I sat the other night, reading from the writings of President Joseph F. Smith from a book we prize called Gospel Doctrine. President Smith has often told us about how his father schooled him in the teachings of the Church. I would like to read a few paragraphs from his father’s writings that bear upon the sacred day we now are experiencing. President Joseph F. Smith said:
“Every man born into the world will die. It matters not who he is, nor where he is, whether his birth be among the rich and the noble, or among the lowly and poor in the world, his days are numbered with the Lord, and in due time he will reach the end. We should think of this. Not that we should go about with heavy hearts or with downcast countenances; not at all. I rejoice that I am born to live, to die, and to live again. I thank God for this intelligence. It gives me joy and peace that the world cannot give, neither can the world take it away. God has revealed this to me, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it to be true. Therefore, I have nothing to be sad over, nothing to make me sorrowful. … On the contrary, it is cause for joy unspeakable, and for pure happiness. I cannot express the joy I feel at the thought of meeting my father, and my precious mother, who gave me birth in the midst of persecution and poverty, who bore me in her arms and was patient, forbearing, tender and true during all my helpless moments in the world. The thought of meeting her, who can express the joy? The thought of meeting my children who have preceded me beyond the veil, and of meeting my kindred and my friends, what happiness it affords! For I know that I shall meet them there. God has shown me that this is true. He has made it clear to me, in answer to my prayer and devotion, as he has made it clear to the understanding of all men who have sought diligently to know him.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 428–29.)
Now then he lets his mind drift into another expectation:
“So I feel quite confident that the eye of Joseph, the prophet, and of the martyrs of this dispensation, and of Brigham, and John, and Wilford [and if he were to say it today, he would have added Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay], and those faithful men who were associated with them in their ministry upon the earth, are carefully guarding the interests of the kingdom of God in which they labored and for which they strove during their mortal lives. I believe they are as deeply interested in our welfare today, if not with greater capacity, with far more interest, behind the veil, than they were in the flesh. I believe their minds have expanded beyond their comprehension in mortal life, and their interests are enlarged and expanded in the works of the Lord to which they gave their lives and their best service. …
“I would not like to say one thing, or express a thought, that would grieve the heart of Joseph or of Brigham, or of John, or of Wilford, or of Lorenzo, or of any of their faithful associates in the ministry. … I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separated from them.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 430.)
He then moves one more step into a greater expectation when he says:
“I thank God for the feeling that I possess and enjoy, and for the realization that I have that I stand, not only in the presence of Almighty God, my Maker and Father, but in the presence of his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Savior of the world; and I stand in the presence of Peter and James and perhaps the eyes of John are also upon us and we know it not [speaking of course with reference to John who received the promise that he might be permitted to tarry in the earth]. I stand also in the presence of Joseph, and Hyrum, and Brigham and John, and those who have been valiant in the testimony of Jesus Christ and faithful to their mission in the world, who have gone before. When I go, I want to have the privilege of meeting them with the consciousness that I have followed their example, that I have carried out the mission in which they were engaged, as they would have it carried out; that I have been as faithful in the discharge of duty, committed to me and required at my hand, as they were faithful in their time, and that when I meet them, I shall meet them as I met them here, in love, in harmony, in unison, and in perfect confidence that I have done my duty as they have done theirs.
“I hope you will forgive me for my emotion. You would have peculiar emotions, would you not, if you felt that you stood in the presence of your Father, in the very presence of Almighty God, in the very presence of the Son of God and of holy angels? You would feel rather emotional, rather sensitive. I feel it to the very depths of my soul this moment. So I hope you will forgive me, if I exhibit some of my real feelings.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 430–31.)
And then finally he concludes his feelings about a future life:
“Some people dream, you know, and think, and teach that all the glory they ever expect to have in the world to come is to sit in the light and glory of the Son of God, and sing praises and songs of joy and gratitude all their immortal lives. We do not believe in any such thing. We believe that every man will have his work to do in the other world, just as surely as he had it to do here, and a greater work than he can do here. We believe that we are on the road of advancement, of development in knowledge, in understanding and in every good thing, and that we will continue to grow, advance and develop throughout the eternities that are before us. That is what we believe.” (Conference Report, April 1912, p. 8.)
As we stood at the couch where he lay last Sunday night, his lovely daughter made a comment, “Now he has gone where he can begin to be his own self.” All his powers now will return in full measure, and he will go where he can exercise his strength, and put to good use all that he has learned here, and begin that long search for greater knowledge in the world to come.
He had a special kind of affection for little children. As we watched occasionally out of the window the last two days the groups that came in to pass by his casket, we were amazed to find out how many hundreds of little children were there. He loved little children. He seemed to like to fondle them in his arms, and he had full confidence in youth.
You young people, may I read just one expression that attests to the faith that he had in youth, the youth of the Church. He said: “Occasionally someone arises who feels that it is his duty to inform the world that the old members of the Church are still faithful in the doctrines that were taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith and by President Brigham Young, but that the rising generation is departing from such things, that the children of these fathers are turning from the teachings of their fathers, as they put it. I am here to testify that this is not true. There may of course be those among us who are not faithful, who have turned from the footsteps of their fathers, but as far as the Latter-day Saints are concerned, the majority of them will not turn from the faith of their fathers. The gospel was restored for the last time that it must grow and increase and the knowledge grow and spread until it fills the whole earth. This is the destiny of Mormonism.”
Be assured that your President has had faith in the youth of today.
I would like to pay just a humble, closing tribute to this wonderful family of which President Tanner has spoken. Seldom, I think, in this Church—perhaps in the world—have there been children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have clung more faithfully to the “iron rod,” as it has been spoken of, who have been true to the faith, true to the sacred names of trust that have been passed on to them by their forebears. Four generations of the Smith leaders now have shown their mettle by the strength of their presidency and their great labors in the Church.
I have already spoken of the special tribute to Bruce and Amelia, in whose home the President lived, sweet Josephine and others of the daughters, and the sons, and the grandchildren who came, particularly this last year, where they could be close to their father. This was his joy in the months that have passed since the passing of his lovely wife, Jessie.
I want to pay a special tribute to his secretary, Brother D. Arthur Haycock, his personal secretary. No man could have exhibited a more loving kindness to a father than Arthur has paid to President Smith. He cared for him as tenderly, as lovingly, and I suppose he has mourned his passing as acutely as any member of the family. I want to pay tribute to Arthur.
And now I want to add my testimony to those that have already been borne. Since the shock of his passing came, and realizing now that the Twelve would have the responsibility to take up the labors and determine what steps to take in order to reorganize the presidency of the Church, and serving as I do as the senior member of the Council, I have been concerned. I have wanted to know what the Lord’s will would be. I wanted to do nothing except I knew it was of the Lord. I have sought most earnestly to know, to be guided, so that this church could go on and be worthy of those who have sacrificed, who have given their lives that this church might grow.
I have received a special witness the last few days. I had a comfort from one who wrote, “Men who are called to these leading positions in the Church were foreordained to that mission before they came to this earth.” If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t dare stand in the place where I am today; believing that, I have no fear, anxiety, and concern, because I know the Lord is at the helm in guiding the work of the Church.
If the Lord knew me before I came here, as my friend reminded me, and he knows me now and has accepted of me, the Lord being my strength, we will attempt to follow in the footsteps of this beloved leader of ours. Brother Tanner and I have loved this man these last two and a half years. It hasn’t been pretended. He begat love, because he loved us, and we have stood by him, as he stood by and trusted us. We have mourned his passing with you, his dear family; and we want to express to you our feeling that now he has gone, you may not feel that you are alone. You still belong to us. We want you to know that the arms of our love are about each and every one of you here in this great family of President Smith.
I know, with all the feelings of my soul, that the Savior lives. I know that he is standing closer to us today. He said that in a revelation. “I am in your midst and ye cannot see me; But the day soon cometh that ye shall see me, and know that I am. …” (D&C 38:8.) I am as confident of that as I am that I live today.
And so I leave you my witness and bear my humble testimony to the divinity of this work. May God grant us the strength to carry on and to be worthy one day to stand in the presence of these who have preceded us, and particularly to be worthy to stand in the presence of our Lord and Master and give as good an accounting as I know President Smith is now making in his report, because he has passed the test and has passed to the joy that awaits those who have so labored and have so triumphed over the grave.
I leave you my blessing and bear you my humble testimony, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.