20th Century Latter-day Saint History

The Story of Bruce R. McConkie’s Final Testimony

He knew it would be his last talk.

“The Purifying Power of Gethsemane” is the general conference talk often referred to as Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony. Elder McConkie gave the talk when sick with cancer, less than two weeks before his death. His testimony of Jesus Christ was so influential that Joseph Fielding McConkie called it “one of the most powerful talks ever given in the Tabernacle.” It has also been noted by historian John Turner in Mormon Jesus as a pivotal event that marked a change in how Latter-day Saints talk about the Savior.

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Read the text or watch the video of Elder McConkie’s final testimony.

Watch Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony in this video of his April 1985 general conference talk, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane.”

Table of Contents

Background of Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony

Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony was the culmination of a lifetime of service and preparation. It also served as the capstone to a challenging 14 months, during which time he dealt with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Elder McConkie’s earlier testimony

Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony is famous for its focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the Apostle had powerfully spoken of God’s Almighty Son since before his call to the Twelve. In particular, his general conference talks directly before and after his call as an Apostle set the stage for his eventual “final testimony.”

This would be his last talk, and he knew it.

April 1972: “I Believe in Christ”

Elder McConkie authored the text to the Christ-centered hymn, “I Believe in Christ.” He shared the lyrics from the pulpit in his last general conference talk as a member of the Seventy.

I Believe In Christ Lyrics
Verse 1

I believe in Christ; he is my King!

With all my heart to him I’ll sing;

I’ll raise my voice in praise and joy,

In grand amens my tongue employ.

I believe in Christ; he is God’s Son;

On earth to dwell his soul did come;

He healed the sick; the dead he raised.

Good works were his; his name be praised.

Verse 2

I believe in Christ; oh, blessed name,

As Mary’s Son he came to reign

’Mid mortal men, his earthly kin,

To save them from the woes of sin.

I believe in Christ, who marked the path,

Who did gain all his Father hath,

Who said to men: “Come, follow me,

That ye, my friends, with God may be.”

Verse 3

I believe in Christ—my Lord, my God!

My feet he plants on gospel sod;

I’ll worship him with all my might;

He is the source of truth and light.

I believe in Christ; he ransoms me.

From Satan’s grasp he sets me free,

And I shall live with joy and love

In his eternal courts above.

Verse 4

I believe in Christ; he stands supreme!

From him I’ll gain my fondest dream;

And while I strive through grief and pain,

His voice is heard: “Ye shall obtain.”

I believe in Christ, so come what may,

With him I’ll stand in that great day

When on this earth he comes again

To rule among the sons of men.

Many people reported having spiritual experiences during this talk that Elder McConkie would become an Apostle. His son, Joseph Fielding McConkie, also said that President Harold B. Lee told Elder McConkie his talk had made the conference session more spiritual.

“The special Spirit that attended this talk was apparently intended to announce to many that they were hearing the voice of a prophet and to prepare others to receive him when that call came,” wrote Joseph Fielding McConkie.

October 1972: “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”

Elder McConkie was called to fill the vacancy left in the Quorum of the Twelve after the death of his father-in-law, Joseph Fielding Smith. In his first general conference talk as an Apostle, McConkie shared his testimony as a special witness of the Savior:

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.

Bruce R. McConkie, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”
Bruce R. McConkie was sustained as as Apostle in October 1972. During this general conference, he paved the way for his eventual final testimony by giving his first special witness of Jesus Christ. Credit: Ensign Peak Foundation.

Elder McConkie’s cancer

Bruce R. McConkie began experiencing stomach issues roughly 14 months before his passing. Doctors would go on to identify spots on his liver, and cancer throughout his “system.” He received many priesthood blessings during this time from men such as his brother, Brit McConkie, and church leaders, including Elder Boyd K. Packer Gordon B. Hinckley, James E. Faust, and Dallin H. Oaks.

The Apostle was determined to beat the diagnosis. And he did—for a while. One of Elder McConkie’s children said, “The doctors gave him a couple of months, and he lived fourteen.”

Final 14 months

In those fourteen months, Elder McConkie gave three classic talks, prepared a family trip to the Holy Land, participated in his final church assignment, and delivered his final testimony. The formal title was “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” and it would quickly become one of the best-known talks by Bruce R. McConkie.

In Reflections of a Son, Joseph Fielding McConkie identifies the three notable talks given by Elder McConkie before his last testimony:

  1. A talk on missionary work given to Latter-day Saint educators at Brigham Young University on June 3, 1984.
  2. A 1984 CES address entitled, “The Bible: A Sealed Book” that decried the roadblocks of ignorance and intellectuality that prevent people from understanding the word of God.
  3. A talk calling on religious educators at BYU to sustain the Prophet Joseph Smith on November 3, 1984.

Biographer Dennis B. Horne explained that Elder McConkie also finished one final church assignment prior to his final testimony. “[He] was to go to the BYU Motion Picture Studio to tape the Churchwide fireside for the scriptures publication project,” Horne wrote. “This was a tremendously difficult experience for him.”

Bruce R. McConkie’s last major assignment prior to his final testimony was recording this video about using the new edition of the Latter-day Saint scriptures, according to biographer Dennis B. Horne.

Preparing for his final testimony

Elder McConkie was so sick in the days leading up to his last general conference talk that his doctors issued a warning: “You must not let him speak at conference. If he tries, he will collapse.”

Despite the caution, Elder McConkie pushed ahead. He wrote most of his final testimony on February 18, 1985, and asked his wife to listen as he read her the draft.

Amelia McConkie, who had been baking an apple pie to quell his nausea, stopped what she was doing and listened to him read.

She recalled:

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.

Amelia Smith McConkie on Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony

As his biographer Dennis B. Horne wrote, “This would be his last talk, and he knew it.”

Bruce R. McConkie’s Final Testimony

Bruce R. McConkie quotes come from many of his works, including Mormon Doctrine, his New Testament Commentary, and talks given as a general authority. But perhaps his most notable quotes come from the text of his final testimony.

These are some of the quotations from his April 1985 general conference talk, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane.”

“They are now mine”

In speaking of these wondrous things I shall use my own words, though you may think they are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and prophets.

True it is they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine, for the Holy Spirit of God has borne witness to me that they are true, and it is now as though the Lord had revealed them to me in the first instance. I have thereby heard his voice and know his word.

“Mighty Michael”

We know that an angel came from the courts of glory to strengthen him in his ordeal, and we suppose it was mighty Michael, who foremost fell that mortal man might be.

“Least understood”

Now, the atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths.

“Faith like Enoch”

If we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.

“Three gardens”

As we read, ponder, and pray, there will come into our minds a view of the three gardens of God—the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden of the Empty Tomb where Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene.

Elder McConkie’s final testimony

I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.

God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

The concluding words of Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony

Death of Bruce R. McConkie

Elder McConkie died on April 19, 1985—almost two weeks after delivering his final testimony in general conference. Following a blessing by Elder Boyd K. Packer in which Elder McConkie was counseled to quit resisting the will of the Lord, he demonstrated his obedience by undressing and getting under the covers of his bed.

Later, Bruce R. McConkie died at the same moment his family was gathered together praying for his release from mortality.

Aftermath of Elder McConkie’s final testimony

Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony was a powerful talk for many of those who heard him speak in 1985. Similarly, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane” has continued to influence Latter-day Saints in the years since it was originally delivered.

Before his passing, Joseph Fielding McConkie said that he had been approached almost weekly for his entire life with comments from people who said they’d been impacted by his father’s final testimony. Similarly, the video of his final testimony remains popular on YouTube.

John Turner, the evangelical scholar who wrote Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet and The Mormon Jesus, noted that Elder McConkie’s final talk was a formative moment for Latter-day Saints.

As BYU’s Robert L. Millet has said, Elder McConkie’s final testimony “propelled the followers of Joseph Smith to a higher reverence for and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Elder McConkie’s Final Testimony FAQ

What was Elder McConkie’s last testimony?

Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony was a general conference talk entitled, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane.” The April 1985 discourse included Elder McConkie’s special witness of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Where can I find Bruce R. McConkie’s last testimony video?

The best place to find Elder McConkie’s final testimony video is on the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints YouTube channel. The video has excellent quality and doesn’t violate copyright laws.

When did Bruce R. McConkie become an apostle?

Elder McConkie became an Apostle in 1972 when he was called by President Harold B. Lee to fill the vacancy left by Joseph Fielding Smith. His first talk as an Apostle included his special witness of Jesus Christ.

What happened to Bruce R. McConkie?

Bruce R. McConkie passed away roughly two weeks after his final testimony given on April 6, 1985. His son, Joseph Fielding McConkie, said that he was approached the rest of his life by Latter-day Saints who were impacted by his father’s talk.

How old was Bruce R. McConkie when he died?

Bruce Redd McConkie died from cancer at the age of 69. Elder McConkie’s obituary in The New York Times mentions his final testimony given at Temple Square in April 1985.

Who was Bruce R. McConkie married to?

The Latter-day Saint Apostle was married to Amelia Smith McConkie, the daughter of Joseph Fielding Smith. Elder McConkie famously read her a draft of his final testimony while she was baking him an apple pie to help with the nausea caused by his cancer.

Who wrote the chapter headings in the Book of Mormon?

In addition to writing “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” Bruce R. McConkie also played a key role in writing the chapter headings in the Book of Mormon.

Further reading

Final testimony resources and sources

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

3 replies on “The Story of Bruce R. McConkie’s Final Testimony”

Thank you for reviewing this singular moment in the history of witnesses to the Savior’s sacred mission of salvation. Elder Bruce McConkie gave my mother permission to be baptized about 6 years ago in Melbourne, Australia. It was a bit unconventional for him to override Church policy, but he did it and opened the gates of the kingdom to her entire posterity. We will be forever grateful to him and his bat inspiration.

Elder McConkie’s April 1985 general conference address was indeed everything this piece says it was and more. It was the crowning teaching and testimony of one of the greatest doctrinal expounders and special witnesses of Jesus of this dispensation. His review of the atonement, and related matters, is one of the best ever given anywhere on that subject. At its conclusion, President Gordon B. Hinckley stood and endorsed what Elder McConkie had taught.

Something that many readers sometimes don’t realize, is that in connection with the doctrine of the atonement, Elder McConkie also reviewed, more briefly, the doctrine of the creation and the fall of Adam. In doing so, he particularly repeated doctrinal truths he had taught many times before (as in his “Three Pillars of Eternity” BYU Devotional Address from the early 1980s). He taught:

“In Eden we will see all things created in a paradisiacal state—without death, without procreation, without probationary experiences.
“We will come to know that such a creation, now unknown to man, was the only way to provide for the Fall.
“We will then see Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman, step down from their state of immortal and paradisiacal glory to become the first mortal flesh on earth.
“Mortality, including as it does procreation and death, will enter the world. And because of transgression a probationary estate of trial and testing will begin.”

Careful and experienced readers will note that Elder McConkie here teaches that “all things” were created in a “paradisiacal state–without death.” And also without birth. “All things” could not yet reproduce without the fall, though they were created in a state in which that would become possible with the fall. He also teaches that Adam and Eve were the first man and first woman and that with the fall they became the “first mortal flesh.”

I think it simple common sense to know that the same Spirit of the Lord that accompanied his address did not depart when he spoke these truths. The witness was borne and remains.

I also think it simple common sense to realize that he was but paraphrasing powerful scriptural passages.

Readers might ask themselves how these eternal truths affect any variation of the world’s theory of evolution, or, of those in the church who promote theistic evolution. The contradictions between these revelations/teachings and the theory are inescapable.

About five years before Elder McConkie gave his final testimony, President Marion G. Romney, in a First Presidency Message, wrote this supporting doctrine:

For many years I had an assignment from the First Presidency to serve on what was known as the Church Publications Committee. We were expected to read and pass upon material submitted for use in the study courses of our auxiliary organizations. In reading these materials my spirit was sometimes offended by the use of language which expressed the views of those who did not believe in the mission of Adam. I have reference to words and phrases such as “primitive man,” “prehistoric man,” “before men learned to write,” and the like. Sometimes these terms are used in ways which evidence a misunderstanding of the mission of Adam. The connotation of these terms, as used by unbelievers, is out of harmony with our understanding of the mission of Adam, as taught by such teachers as Enoch, Moses, and Nephi.
“Adam fell that men might be” (2 Ne. 2:25). There were no pre-Adamic men in the line of Adam. The Lord said that Adam was the first man (see Moses 1:34, Moses 3:7; D&C 84:16). The Lord also said that Adam was the first flesh (see Moses 3:7), which, as I understand it, means the first mortal on the earth. I understand from a statement made by Enoch, in the book of Moses, that there was no death in the world before Adam (see Moses 6:48; 2 Ne. 2:22). Enoch also said that a record of Adam was kept in a book which had been written under the tutelage of the Almighty himself.
Consider the deep import of the truth revealed in this scripture:
“And Enoch continued his speech, saying: The Lord which spake with me, the same is the God of heaven, and he is my God, and your God, and ye are my brethren, and why counsel ye yourselves, and deny the God of heaven?
“The heavens he made; the earth is his footstool; and the foundation thereof is his. Behold, he laid it, an host of men hath he brought in upon the face thereof.
“And death hath come upon our fathers; nevertheless we know them, and cannot deny, and even the first of all we know, even Adam.
“For a book of remembrance we have written among us, according to the pattern given by the finger of God; and it is given in our own language.
“And as Enoch spake forth the words of God, the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence” (Moses 6:43–47).
I am not a scientist. I do not profess to know much about what they know. My emphasis is on Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and the revealed principles of his gospel. If, however, there are some things in the strata of the earth indicating there were men before Adam, then they were not the ancestors of Adam. And we should avoid using language and ideas that would cause confusion on this matter.
If we confuse the missions of Adam and Eve, we also confuse our understanding of the Savior’s mission. The consequences of the missions performed by Adam and Eve made necessary the atonement wrought by Jesus. Such is the major message of the Old Testament, which was a precursor to the fulfillment of Christ’s atoning mission.

Most of the above language is repeated, as a second witness, from a General Conference address from 1953 given by Elder Romney, then of the Twelve. Speaking of endorsements, at the conclusion of his address, Pres. McKay handed Elder Romney a brief note endorsing all he had said in glowing terms in relation to the origin of Adam and his mission. Then in 1970 Elder Romney again taught this same doctrine to BYU students, and this time President Joseph Fielding Smith stood and endorsed his teachings to the entire student-body.

The fact is, the Lord wanted Elder McConkie to teach the doctrine he did to the Church. President Hinckley said, “The Lord placed him as an Apostle for a purpose. He has taken him for a reason.” An unknown historical item is that President Harold B. Lee had someone else in mind besides Elder McConkie to call as the newest apostle when he became President of the Church. But when Pres. Lee went before the Lord, in the Holy of Holies, to receive confirmation of his choice, the Lord over-ruled him and had His prophet select Elder McConkie instead. This episode will be found in my forthcoming book, “Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ: They Know He lives.” Also found in that book will be further internal insight into what the most senior church leaders thought of Elder McConkie’s doctrinal teachings. Ignorant critics like to, well, criticize him and his teachings, but they are sorely mistaken.

Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote this of his father’s mentors:

Bruce McConkie had as mentors two lions of the Lord. The first was his father, Oscar W. McConkie, a man who could move mountains with his faith, preach with the voice of thunder, raise the dead, and heal the sick. He was a man who dreamed dreams and saw visions. The second was his father-in-law, Joseph Fielding Smith, destined to stand at the head of the Church as its prophet, as his own father had done before him, and destined to defend the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, according to the words of a patriarch, in its highest councils. President Heber J. Grant called him the “best posted” man in the Church on the scriptures. Such was President Smith’s integrity that my uncle Oscar, a law partner in the firm that handled many legal matters for the Church, told me once, “Joseph Fielding Smith is so honest that if the Church wasn’t true, he would call a press conference and announce it.” Both men, one in high position, the other not, loved the Church, the gospel, and the Savior more than life itself. Both would rather have talked scripture than eat. Both were guileless, and as preachers neither knew any gospel other than the gospel of plainness nor cared a fig for public favor. In Bruce McConkie one could plainly see the likeness of his mentors.

(The mentions about Oscar W. McConkie Sr. in the above paragraph, are not figurative.)

Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote the following of his father Bruce R. McConkie’s final talk/testimony in conference:

“None who heard his last sermon on the Atonement of Jesus Christ will ever forget his witness,” said President Ezra Taft Benson. “His testimony bears repeating because his was a sure witness as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and as a special witness of His name.”4

Of that testimony President Gordon B. Hinckley observed: “None who were in the tabernacle that recent Saturday morning of General Conference, or who saw it or heard it over the air, will forget his final testimony when he declared in a voice shaking with emotion: ‘I am one of His witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in His hands and in His feet and shall wet His feet with my tears.

“‘But I shall not know any better then than I know now that He is God’s almighty Son; that He is our Savior and Redeemer; and that salvation comes in and through His atoning blood and in no other way.’

” . . . That testimony touched the hearts of tens of thousands across the Church, and will continue to do so in the years to come.”5

The Salt Lake Tribune said in an editorial tribute: “Few testimonies of a personal belief in divine redemption can rival for power and conviction Elder McConkie’s words during the Church’s spring conference in Salt Lake City earlier this month. A cancer victim, acutely aware of his earthly mortality, the emotional, yet intellectually unbowed speaker attested to a mercy and blessedness, for those practicing scriptural constancy, so sublime and certain as to permanently affect all who heard him describe it.” The editorial went on to say that he was more “than theologian and instructor, although as both he excelled beyond measure. He was striding taller than most, counseling more fervently than many, still one with his companion worshippers, profoundly interested in their struggles, concerned for their eternal salvation. As a diligent servant of his church, as inspiration for its congregation, he will be missed. But with the acknowledgment that death awaits every man, humble or great, Bruce R. McConkie deserves to live now in those exalting recollections forever graced by reverence, affection, and gratitude.”

At the time of this writing, nearly eighteen years have passed since that testimony was given, and yet people constantly share with members of the family their feelings at the time it was given. Those expressions have included people not of our faith, conversion stories, and other memories and impressions that have been indelibly impressed on their hearts and minds. We have received calls and letters from mission presidents, stake presidents, and others from the ends of the earth requesting copies of it. Typical is this note addressed to Elder McConkie before his death: “Yesterday, as I listened to your testimony I wept with you as you testified of Christ. The Holy Ghost bore witness to me again of the truth and reality of the Savior’s redeeming sacrifice. I thank you for it and the many other times that I have been blessed and inspired by your life and sermons.”

Yet another note records: “I distinctly remember as if it was yesterday sitting downstairs at my parents’ watching conference that year, having recently returned from my mission and listening to Elder Bruce R. McConkie bear his final testimony to the world. It was the most powerful testimony I have ever heard and I felt the Spirit so strongly I remember losing all control of my emotions and running up to my room afterwards and bawling for some time. The Spirit bore witness to me so strongly on that occasion of the divinity of the Savior and his Atonement, I would have to say more strongly than any testimony I have received in my lifetime.”

In 1989, shortly after I arrived in Scotland to preside over the mission there, a couple requested that I baptize them. In response to my asking why they wanted me to perform their baptism, they said because their conversion had come while they were listening to a tape of Dad’s last conference talk.

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