My heart is heavy today at the passing of our beloved prophet and President, Ezra Taft Benson. We have lost a dear friend, a wise and experienced associate in the presiding councils of the Church, and an inspired prophet of God.
We miss him deeply on this day in which we have gathered to pay our last respects to him. I feel his loss in a particularly personal way. For nearly thirty-five years, we sat together in the Council of the Twelve Apostles. He was always sensitive and kind to me and to all of his Brethren in the sweet association we have there. For ten of those years, President Benson presided over the Council of the Twelve. Oh, how we thrilled at his guidance. He was a gifted leader, a superb administrator. We all felt the keenness of his mind and the power of his priesthood as he led us.
I saw the mantle of prophetic leadership settle upon his shoulders. I felt his humility and his dependence on the Lord as he stepped into the sacred office he would now hold. I heard his voice rise to new levels of spiritual eloquence and divine utterance. Now that mighty voice is stilled, and we mourn with the entire Church at the silence.
We express our sympathy and our condolences to members of the Benson family. President Benson has been an exemplary husband, father, and grandfather. From this very pulpit he taught so powerfully and repeatedly that all the teachings of the gospel should center in and around the family. More than once he said, “There is no theme I would rather speak to than home and family, for they are at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church, in large part, exists for the salvation and exaltation of the family” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 489).
Although this is a time of sadness, it thrills us to think of the joyful reunion President Benson is having with his beloved sweetheart, Flora, who has been waiting patiently—or perhaps a little impatiently—for her husband of sixty-six years to join her on the other side. Theirs was a storybook romance, an example to all of what a marriage should be. Until Sister Benson’s passing, they were absolutely inseparable. And even when the weight of his office was particularly heavy in those later years, they still went to the temple together every Friday morning. They continued that sweet practice until Sister Benson could no longer physically make the journey.
May God bless you children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have been so fortunate to be raised under his fatherly leadership. You have an opportunity and an obligation to perpetuate his testimony, his teachings, and the loyalty he gave to your family circle.
In these few days and quiet hours since President Benson’s passing, I have reflected on the many marvelous sermons he has given and the direction he so clearly and forthrightly gave to the Church. He spoke to everyone and had concern for all. He spoke to the women of the Church and to the men. He spoke to the elderly. He spoke to those who were single, to those in their youth, and he loved speaking to the children in the Church. He gave wonderful, personalized counsel to the entire membership, whatever their personal circumstances were. Those sermons will continue to sustain us and guide us as we reflect on them for many years to come.
President Benson spoke lovingly and frequently of missionary work and temples and the responsibilities of the priesthood. He spoke of our pioneer heritage and the dangers of pride and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But most of all he spoke of his beloved Book of Mormon.
Will any generation, including those yet unborn, look back on the administration of President Ezra Taft Benson and not immediately think of his love for the Book of Mormon? Perhaps no President of the Church since the Prophet Joseph Smith himself has done more to teach the truths of the Book of Mormon, to make it a daily course of study for the entire membership of the Church, and to “flood the earth” with its distribution.
At the very outset of his ministry as prophet, seer, and revelator, President Benson said unequivocally, “The Book of Mormon must be reenthroned in the minds and hearts of our people. We must honor it by reading, by studying it, by taking its precepts into our lives and transforming them into lives required of the true followers of Christ.” He never tired of reminding us that the Prophet Joseph Smith himself had said “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (introduction to the Book of Mormon).
Surely President Benson succeeded in a most remarkable way in the prophetic task which he enthusiastically undertook of reenthroning the Book of Mormon in the minds and hearts of our people. Indeed, the Book of Mormon itself provides perhaps the most fitting epitaph of all to President Benson’s long and valiant life in the service of the Lord. As was said of Captain Moroni, one of President Benson’s favorite Book of Mormon figures, so say we of Ezra Taft Benson:
“[He] was a strong and a mighty man; … a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, …
“A man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. …
“A man who was firm in the faith of Christ” (Alma 48:11–13).
May God bless us all to remember and revere the life and teachings and service of President Benson. He has now taken his place alongside the prophets and Apostles who have preceded him in the ministry of Christ, having followed that strait and narrow course to the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, there sitting down “with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out” (Hel. 3:30).
I testify of the great reward that is his through the redemption and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose servant he was and is. I testify that the Church to which Ezra Taft Benson gave more than nine decades of unstinting and devoted life is the restored and true Church of Jesus Christ. I testify that the prophetic keys which he held were unbroken from the Prophet Joseph Smith down to his own receipt of them, and that those keys and that office will continue, unbroken, to another and another until the Savior himself will come to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is Christ’s church, and we are his prophets.
In the words of the master, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.