Spencer W. Kimball: A Star of the First Magnitude


Ezra Taft Benson

Spencer W. Kimball:

Sister Kimball, family, and friends of President Kimball, my heart is subdued and my feelings tender as I attempt to speak to you today. Flora and I have fervently prayed that President Kimball’s years would be extended on this earth.

President Kimball and I were ordained Apostles on the same day—October 7, 1943—only a few minutes apart. I remember well how we knelt in turn as President Heber J. Grant, who was then somewhat feeble, laid his hands on our heads and ordained us to this high and holy calling. For more than forty years we have sat together in council meetings. When I say I love Spencer Woolley Kimball, I do so with a full heart.

It has been said that the death of a righteous man is never untimely because our Father sets the time. I believe that with all my soul.

President Kimball now takes his place alongside other Apostles and prophets of this and other dispensations who have passed on to the other side of the veil. He will work even more actively there for the building of the kingdom of God on earth. As President Joseph F. Smith said: “Those faithful men … 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.” (Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 430.)

In recent years, several of our faithful brethren have passed to the other side of the veil. My sentiments were well expressed by President Wilford Woodruff: “I have felt of late as if our brethren on the other side of the vail had held a council, and that they had said to this one, and that one, ‘Cease thy work on earth, come hence, we need help,’ and they have called this man and that man. It has appeared so to me in seeing the many men who have been called from our midst lately.” (Journal of Discourses, 22:334.)

Whether we work on this side of the veil or on the other side makes little difference. Before the Lord it is all one great program.

A noble and great one! Such was President Spencer W. Kimball—a prophet of God to the nations of the world.

He was born of the lineage of prophets to noble parentage. His grandfather Heber C. Kimball was a prophet. His father had the spirit of prophecy and predicted that his son would become “a mighty man in the Church.”

His mother’s patriarchal blessing recorded this remarkable prophecy: “Thy sons shall be stars of the first magnitude in thy crown and shall be healthy, strong, and vigorous in helping to direct the purposes of God in this last dispensation.”

“A star of the first magnitude!” Such was and continues to be President Spencer W. Kimball.

President Kimball’s life was a miracle. He was a man of great spiritual depth. Like Job of old, he experienced almost inconceivable trials: Typhoid, smallpox, and the passing of his beloved mother while a small child, many heart attacks, throat cancer, and many other infirmities. But he never complained. Following the example of the Savior, whom he loved so much, President Kimball submitted to his burdens and learned obedience “by the things which he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8.)

When the history of this dispensation is recorded, the administration of President Spencer Woolley Kimball will be seen as one of the most progressive in the history of the Church. Let me tell you why.

President Kimball not only sought the will of the Lord on all matters that affected the Church, but he was totally amenable to the will of the Lord after receiving the answer. Thus, the Lord profitably used him to accomplish His purposes on earth. President Kimball was, in the descriptive words of his grandfather, “clay in the Master Potter’s hands.”

By the administration of President Kimball and his counselors, it should be evident to all the pure in heart that this Church operates by revelation. A review of some of the developments during his tenure as President of the Church should be a testimony of this fact.

In nearly twelve years, we have seen:

The reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

In June of 1978 the Lord revealed, in an unmistakable manner, to the First Presidency and the Twelve that the time had come to extend the priesthood to worthy men of all races. That revelation—one of the most significant in this dispensation—opens the door to exaltation to millions of our Father’s children. It has greatly affected our missionary work. It has influenced genealogical activity and vicarious ordinances. These ordinances, of course, are essential to the salvation of millions in the spirit world.

Thus, during President Kimball’s administration, there has been a great expansion of missionary work. The number of missionaries has nearly doubled. During his tenure, almost two million people have come into the Church. We have added 51 new missions and 938 stakes. Sixty percent of the current stakes of the Church were created during President Kimball’s tenure.

We have seen a worldwide expansion of temples. Thirty-one temples have been announced, twenty-one have been dedicated, and five rededicated during President Kimball’s administration. Previously, there were fifteen dedicated temples in operation in the world.

Many Church members throughout the world will now be able to receive their temple blessings, and the great work in behalf of the dead will be significantly escalated.

We have further seen two revelations added to our modern scripture: the vision of the celestial kingdom given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the vision of the redemption of the dead given to President Joseph F. Smith.

We have witnessed an emphasis on the place of the family in the eternal plan of God. Family histories, family organizations, and temple work have been continually stressed.

More responsibility has been given to parents to teach their children the gospel in the home. To facilitate this teaching in the home, a new Sunday meeting schedule was introduced.

The life work of President Spencer W. Kimball may be characterized by the following qualities:

1. His humble dependence on the Lord. He was one of the most humble and meek men I have ever known. To use the words of King Benjamin, he was “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19.)

President Kimball was notified by telephone of his call to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve. He was shocked. The month was July, so he had twelve weeks to settle his affairs before October conference. During that time, he gave himself to thinking, praying, fasting, and more prayer.

When he gave his acceptance address as a new Apostle, he revealed:

“I remember reading that Jacob wrestled all night, ‘until the breaking of the day,’ for a blessing; and I want to tell you that for eighty-five nights I have gone through that experience, wrestling for a blessing. Eighty-five times, the breaking of the day has found me on my knees praying to the Lord to help me and strengthen me and make me equal to this great responsibility that has come to me.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1943, p. 16.)

That prayerful persistence for an answer at that time characterized his persistence for an answer in behalf of all our Father’s children so that they, if worthy, might receive a fulness of blessings.

He knew the Lord. He knew how to speak to Him and how to receive answers. Though humble and unpretentious, he was nevertheless bold in testimony about his own calling. Hear again his testimony:

“In our day, as in times past, many people expect that if there be revelation it will come with awe-inspiring, earthshaking display. …

“Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, and light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption.” (Ensign, May 1977, p. 78.)

2. A second characteristic of his mortal life was his great love for the sons and daughters of Lehi. A paragraph in his patriarchal blessing, given to him at the age of nine, reads:

“You will preach the gospel to many people, but more especially to the Lamanites, for the Lord will bless you with the gift of language and power to portray before that people, the gospel in great plainness. You will see them organized and be prepared to stand as the bulwark ‘round this people.’”

He confessed that he knew not when the love of the sons and daughters of Lehi was first awakened in him. He said he seemed to have it since birth.

As an Apostle, he received a special assignment from the President of the Church for these people—an assignment he took with great reverence and seriousness.

He watched over the Lamanite work, was responsible for the placement program, and prophesied of their progress. While he was President, the Church prospered greatly in the lands of Lehi—Mexico, Central and South America, the islands of the sea, and the lands of many Indian tribes of North America. Multitudes have since come into the Church in fulfillment of President Woodruff’s prophecy, “A nation [was] born in a day.”

3. A third characteristic of his life’s work is the quiet miracle of forgiveness that has come to many as a result of President Kimball’s counseling, interest in, caring for, and loving those souls who have been tainted by sin.

A fellow Apostle wrote: “President Kimball himself is an experienced surgeon of sorts. Not a doctor of medicine, but a doctor of spiritual well-being. Many a moral cancer has been excised, many a blemish of character has been removed, many a spiritual illness of one kind or another has been cured through his efforts. Some on the verge of spiritual oblivion have been rescued by him. He has written a book—literally years in preparation—The Miracle of Forgiveness. Many have been protected by the counsel he has written. Countless others have been inspired to set their lives in order and have experienced that miracle.” (Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, Mar. 1974, p. 5.)

Fifty-eight solemn assemblies were held during his administration, the principal purpose of which was to counsel priesthood leaders on how to help those who had succumbed to transgression.

Yes, President Kimball practiced what he asked us to do by lengthening our stride. How the Church has responded to his kindly, loving way! There is evidence of greater growth, greater activity, and greater spirituality among members than ever before.

President Kimball’s spirit has now left its mortal tenement, but I testify that he will be close by.

May the Lord bless his memory and his powerful example of all the Lord expects of His covenant children. In a most concise and brief statement, the Lord has declared what He expects of each of us. Hear the Lord’s words:

“Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

“Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.” (D&C 4:1–2.)

I know of no man who has more fully met this high standard set by the Lord than Spencer W. Kimball. He has truly served the Lord with all his heart, might, mind, and strength.

He has been a blessed example to all of us. Again I say, God bless his memory as a noble example of what the Lord expects of all of us.

To you, Sister Kimball, as a loving and inspiring companion of a great spiritual leader and prophet of the Lord, we invoke God’s blessings upon you and your choice family. He whose record is recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be close by, urging you to carry on courageously. His unseen spiritual eyes will be watching you as you strive to follow the counsel and example of a truly great prophet and patriarch.

To you children and grandchildren of your beloved father and grandfather—what a heritage he has left you! Never forget that you have the blood of prophets of God coursing through your veins. Always keep before you the promise made by President Heber C. Kimball to the faithful of his posterity, that if you are faithful in all things “you shall be enthroned in the kingdom of God and shall increase from generation to generation, and there shall be no end of the increase.” (In Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945, p. 514.)

May we all learn from the life of President Kimball what it means to fight the good fight, to finish one’s course, and to keep the faith, that a crown of righteousness may be laid up for all of us.

Life is eternal. This I know as I know that I live, and I leave this witness with all of us in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[photo] Elder Gordon B. Hinckley conducts the funeral service; to the far right is the bier.