I’m grateful for the spirit of peace that is here on this sacred occasion as we bid farewell to our beloved President. Forty-six years ago, in Brigham City, Elder Ezra Taft Benson ordained me a Seventy. My next meeting with him was twelve years later in Washington, D.C. A. Theodore Tuttle and I, then supervisors of seminary, were there on Church school business, and he invited us to lunch with him at his office in the Department of Agriculture. As he fed us, in return, we quenched his thirst for news about the Church.
Those were the years he served in government, meeting the great men of the world: Chiang Kai-shek, Khrushchev, Ben-Gurion, the shah of Iran, Tito, Eisenhower.
Whether entertained in an ordinary hotel or the lavish palace of the Peacock Throne, he would say, “This is too good for a farm boy from Idaho.”
But you cannot find Ezra Taft Benson in those government years. He must be measured by the teachings of the book that dominated his thoughts, controlled his conduct, and inspired his very soul: the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
In the pages of the Book of Mormon, President Benson found the focus of his service.
The prophet Nephi, who faithfully kept a secular history on large plates, was commanded to keep another account: this time, a record of the ministry—the small plates of Nephi.
His brother Jacob wrote that when Nephi gave the records to him “he gave me, Jacob, a commandment that I should write upon these [small] plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people. …
“And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven … them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people” (Jacob 1:2, 4; emphasis added).
“Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God [I write]” (1 Ne. 6:5; emphasis added).
“And upon these [small plates] I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children” (2 Ne. 4:15; emphasis added).
Brother Benson really was not a very good politician. He had the kind of honesty that made people shake their heads and the kind of courage that made him essentially immune to criticism or opposition.
He learned about opposition as a missionary boy in England. An angry mob separated him from his companion. They fled for their very lives. How they rejoiced when they found each other to be safe.
He always kept this verse from the Book of Mormon in his wallet:
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord” (3 Ne. 22:17).
And always this statement was kept on his desk or in his study: “Be right, and then be easy to live with, if possible, but in that order.”
He was like the Old Testament Prophet Nehemiah who rallied the people of Jerusalem to build a wall about the city. The enemies ridiculed their efforts, saying, “that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:3).
“Nevertheless [he] made [a] prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night” (Neh. 4:9).
The enemies sent word, “saying, Come, let us meet together … in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do [him] mischief.
“And [He] sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?” (Neh. 6:2–3.)
President Benson had a great work to do, a great ministry to perform. He reminded us always that “the gospel can only prosper in an atmosphere of freedom.”
He had unlimited faith in people, for he had read in the Book of Mormon, “It is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people” (Mosiah 29:26).
And as a prophet he warned us of the verse that followed:
“And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land” (Mosiah 29:27).
How many times have we heard him measure decisions, asking: “What’s best for the kingdom?”
How many times has he told us: “It’s the Spirit that counts.”
President Benson loved good music of all kinds. He taught that the hymns of the Restoration were the language of the Spirit; that the quiet hymns and the exalted anthems will whisper to the soul words that are felt rather than heard.
He learned to sing them from his father as they milked cows. He learned them by watching his mother as she would spread newspapers on the floor near the coal stove, set up the ironing board, and put the flatirons made of cast iron on the stove to heat. Then, as she carefully ironed the white temple clothing, she would invite the spirit of contentment, of inspiration, of revelation by singing softly the hymns of the Restoration.
We honor now the journey of ninety-four years.
A leader we both knew well and loved dearly, President Joseph Fielding Smith, wrote these lines about the journey of life:
Does the journey seem long,
The path rugged and steep?
Are there briars and thorns on the way?
Do sharp stones cut your feet
As you struggle to rise
To the heights thru the heat of the day?
Is your heart faint and sad,
Your soul weary within,
As you toil ‘neath your burden of care?
Does the load heavy seem
You are forced now to lift?
Is there no one your burden to share?
Are you weighed down with grief,
Is there pain in your breast,
As you wearily journey along?
Are you looking behind
To the valley below?
Do you wish you were back in the throng?
Let your heart be not faint
Now the journey’s begun;
There is One who still beckons to you.
Look upward in gladness
And take hold of his hand,
He will lead you to heights that are new.
A land holy and pure
Where all trouble doth end,
And your life shall be free from all sin,
Where no tears shall be shed
For no sorrows remain;
Take his hand and with him enter in.
(Hymns, 1948, no. 245)
Now this dear, venerable prophet has entered in, there to rejoice with his beloved Flora and to speak of their wonderful family, there to rejoice with Joseph and Brigham and John and Wilford and the others.
The prophets who preceded him, ancient and modern, have on occasion communed with the servants of the Lord on this earth. So it well may be that we have not seen the last of this great prophet of God.
I testify that the veil between this mortal realm and the spirit world opens to such revelation and visitation as the needs of the church and kingdom of God on earth may require. I bear witness that he was a prophet of God; that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true; and that this true servant now takes His hand and enters in, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.