Bruce R. McConkie served as an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1972 to 1985. The gospel scholar authored numerous books, including the controversial Mormon Doctrine and expansive Messiah series. He knew the standard works so well that President Henry B. Eyring sometimes wondered, “Is he quoting the scriptures, or are those his own words?”
Elder McConkie died two weeks after sharing his final testimony in a powerful general conference address entitled, The Purifying Power of Gethsemane. His biographer, Dennis B. Horne, discusses the ways in which Latter-day Saints still feel Elder McConkie’s influence today.
(Read Dennis B. Horne’s expanded version of this interview.)
Table of Contents
- Oscar McConkie
- Scripture study habits
- Sense of humor
- ‘Mormon Doctrine’ backstory
- ‘Mormon Doctrine’ second edition
- Glen Rudd
- 1978 scriptures
- Last weeks
- Final testimony
- Favorite quotes
- Further reading
Who was Bruce R. McConkie’s father? How did he pave the way for a legacy of faith?
Oscar W. McConkie Sr. is (sadly) virtually unknown in the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today, but in his generation he was a man of faith like unto Enoch and Elijah. In his profession he became a lawyer and a judge among other things. His church callings included serving as a bishop, in two stake presidencies, on high councils, as a stake mission president, and as a mission president.
Yet this service does not tell the full story. I have come to know that as mighty as Elder Bruce R. McConkie was, serving faithfully in his calling as an apostle—having many choice spiritual experiences and working miracles—his father Oscar was even greater in some ways than he.
As Elder McConkie stated: “[He] was a very spiritual man. He had many visions and revelations. The Lord entrusted him with much knowledge. . . . [He] would have been qualified to fill any position in the Church but he did not for instance, happen to be called to be one of the General Authorities.”
When Oscar McConkie was ten years old, he remembered,
One day when I was ill, I asked mother for something to read, and she handed me the Book of Mormon. She told me that a glorious feeling, one she never could forget, came over her, and the Holy Ghost seemed to burn in her as by fire, and warmed every part of her being, and soothed and sweetened her, and she knew that she was blessed of the Lord, and that she had acted wisely in placing the Book of Mormon in the hands of her child. We had not been in Moab long until I had read the book through.
Oscar noted at one point that he had read the book thirty-six times.
Among his friends and associates Oscar McConkie counted James E. Talmage, J. Reuben Clark, Matthias F. Cowley, Joseph Fielding Smith, David O. McKay, Harold B. Lee, and many other general authorities and prominent Utahns. He occasionally dreamed of things that would happen to friends or acquaintances, often that included their deaths.
On March 28, 1946, he recorded:
Pres. McKay called me on the telephone. I went to his office and he told me I was the unanimous choice of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve for President of the California Mission. When I left, he put one arm around my shoulders, took my hand with his other hand, and pulled me to him. We walked that way out of his office and out into the hall. I was to leave on May 1, 1946.
Oscar McConkie served as one of the finest mission presidents in the Church. When Elder Harold B. Lee toured President McConkie’s mission, he said that “more great spiritual experiences were taking place there than anywhere else in the Church.”
President McConkie’s mind was filled with the things of the Spirit and the gospel, which he often pondered:
One day in the California Mission, as I pondered the mysteries of godliness, and the great price that all must pay in order to understand them, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost, my spirit cried out within me, and I asked if I had hope of salvation.
Now, I knew of the promises of the Lord concerning me, but I knew of my imperfections; wherefore, I cried out from my soul and from the depths of it. And the voice of the Spirit came to me again, and said, my tithing and the payments of it are in aid of my salvation. Wherefore, I rejoiced that I had obeyed the law of tithing, that it might be an assistant to save my soul, if God wills that it may be saved. I thus know that the payment of tithing balances the scales of the faithful in aid of salvation.
On his release, President McConkie was invited to speak in general conference, in effect giving him the opportunity for a homecoming talk. Because that conference was recorded and is available to listen to, so is Oscar’s message, which starts at 1:42:34 minutes in. Being a gifted orator, he begins slowly but builds to an impassioned and powerful crescendo that leaves hearers strengthened in faith and testimony.
At 1:50:26, President McConkie relates a precious spiritual experience he had while praying for greater faith to fulfill his calling. He speaks of hearing the voice of the Lord in his mind and relates what was said to him. While scriptural only to him, the truth given relates to all.
As far as a potential call to the apostleship was concerned, it was made known to Oscar, by vision, that in order for this to occur, one of the present Quorum members would have to die before their time, and Oscar was unwilling to accede to that. Yet, as stated, he enjoyed the same kinds of supernal spiritual experiences that they did. In a personal memoir, Oscar McConkie wrote: “The week previous to May 21, 1935 . . . I saw a glorious vision in which I saw the Savior of the World.” And that was not the only time such happened to him.
Oscar McConkie loved and was always loyal to the Brethren. Elder Harold B. Lee noted in his journal that Oscar showed him a marked deference of humility. He knew the prophets were indeed prophets.
Oscar recorded a conversation he had with President J. Reuben Clark, around the time that President Clark was mulling some political aspirations.
I said to Pres. Clark: “I see by the papers that you are toying with the idea of running for the senate.”
He said: “I don’t know what I am going to do.”
I said: “I do.”
He laughed and said, “If you know you are the only one who knows.”
I said: “Well, I know and I’ll tell you. When the Lord called you into the First Presidency He was very much in earnest about it.”
Later, the latter part of June, 1934, he wired the State Republican Committee of his refusal to run.
Oscar had some political aspirations himself and ran for Governor of Utah as a Democrat, but lost.
While reminiscing about Elder James E. Talmage, Oscar penned the following:
I dreamed that I heard Dr. Talmage speaking over the radio. He was at the very time delivering a series of talks on the radio for the Church. In my dream, he stopped speaking, tried to clear his throat, and was silent, never to speak again. The Spirit told me that it was the end; that he would now be interrupted even before the series of talks were over. He died in a day or two.
Oscar McConkie authored two published books, one of which was on the subject of the Holy Ghost. He described how that work came about:
I spoke for 45 minutes by appointment, in an upper room of the Temple, on the subject, ‘The Holy Ghost.’ The Stake Presidency and the High Council, [of the] Ensign Stake, plus the presidency of the High Priests quorum were the audience. . . . I spent 100 hours in preparation.
I wrote in my diary that I had never before experienced such an outpouring of the Spirit as upon that occasion, with it sustained for so long a time. Some of the brethren expressed regret that they could not have my remarks in writing.
That was the beginning of the actual writing of the book, ‘The Holy Ghost.’
When the manuscript was finished, Oscar took it to a couple of the Brethren to have it read and informally approved:
“Joseph Fielding Smith and Dr. John A. Widstoe approved the book, the Holy Ghost. Dr. Widstoe had [initially] disapproved it as contrary to Church doctrine, and pointed out a dozen or so places where the book (manuscript) was contrary to the doctrines of the Church. The manuscript was . . . opposite to some of the doctrines that Bro. Widtsoe had written upon the subject of the Holy Ghost.
I talked with Joseph Fielding Smith and he said the doctrine was correct, and he approved my suggestion that I see Dr. Widtsoe.
I took the manuscript, the pages were written on one side only, and I copied from the revelations exact quotations on the back of the opposite sheet, what the Lord had said about the particular question. Thus, I had the word of the Lord on each item.
I went to Dr. Widtsoe and proved my point, point by point. He said that he always understood the manuscript to be correct but had wondered whether others would understand it. He thought it would raise a lot of questions. He offered to write, with Bro. Smith, a Foreword, but I said I should not ask that since they were on the Reading Committee for the Church it might be interpreted as Church approval of the book, and I understood the Church actually approved the Standard Works only.”
What were Bruce R. McConkie’s scripture study habits?
Elder McConkie famously said that he didn’t really have any. Dr. Truman Madsen once asked him what his secret was in studying the scriptures, and Elder McConkie replied that he simply read them.
That was the key: reading them, studying them, drinking deeply from them—and not drinking below the horses, metaphorically speaking. This latter expression meant that a gospel student was far better off reading the word of God itself than what someone else said that word meant. The clear sweet spring water tasted so much better at the source, than after the horses have trampled around in it downstream—and done other things.
Elder McConkie encouraged gospel students to pray about what they read in the revelations. His oft-stated formula was to study the scriptures, ponder them, and then ask the Lord in faith for greater understanding (this is for those who already know they are true).
He also repeatedly warned against reading certain hazardous theological books and commentaries. He knew the value a good quality commentary had and wrote many of them himself, but he also knew the harm a scripture commentary based on worldly scholarship could inflict, as they caused unsuspecting readers to drink far below the horses instead of at or near the fountainhead.
Over and over he counseled gospel students not to drink from the muddy and contaminated water found in the writings of unorthodox intellectuals, that infuse the philosophies of the world or the academy or false portions of science into their writings. This fearless and bold approach; these warnings to avoid the views of the world (especially when taught by member academics) tended to earn him the wrath of many such individuals (who still criticize him today), but he cared not. Pure saving truth was all important and that was found in the standard works.
Elder Boyd K. Packer had much to say about Elder McConkie, the Spirit of the Lord, and those in and out of the Church who criticized him:
Would his sermons leave any uncomfortable? Would his bold declarations irritate some in the Church? Would they inspire the critics to rush to their anvils and hammer out more “Fiery darts” as the scriptures call them? Would his manner of delivery offend? Would his forthright declarations in content or in manner of presentation, drive some learned investigators away? Would he be described as insensitive or overbearing? Would his warnings and condemnations of evil undo the careful work of others whose main intent was to have the world “think well of the Church?” . . .
We have talked of this and when he was tempted to change, the Spirit would withdraw a distance and there would come that deep loneliness known only to those who have enjoyed close association with the Spirit, only to find on occasion that it moves away. He could stand what the critics might say and what the enemies might do, but he could not stand that. He would be driven to his knees to beg forgiveness and plead for the renewal of that companionship of the Spirit which the scriptures promise can be constant. Then he would learn, once again, that what was true of the Holy Men of God who spoke in ancient times applied to him as well. He was to speak as he was moved upon by the Holy Spirit.
What matter if it sounded like Bruce R. McConkie so long as the Lord approved. I knew him well enough to know all of that.
Elder McConkie was especially disappointed with some of those at BYU (and elsewhere) who filled their writings with the philosophies of men.
Speaking of the sublime doctrines of the creation and the fall, and how these are found in the scriptures and in the temple presentation, yet are not correctly understood as they should be, Elder McConkie stated:
At this late date—knowing what we know and having what we have—we ought to envision more and believe more than most of us do. It is recognized that many among us are contaminated by the theories of men. These speculative views are everywhere trumpeted before us, often as though they were the ultimate ipse dixit of the universe.
Even faithful saints—short on gospel knowledge and lacking real spiritual depth—are swept along by the tide of the world and suppose in their minds that the theories of men and the revealed word are somehow capable of being harmonized. Without knowing all that is involved, for instance, they assume, falsely, that the so-called evolutionary processes were and are used by Deity as the means of creating the various forms of life.
In truth, he taught, the only way to learn how God created the earth and man and all things, was by revelation.
There are many truths that can be known only by revelation. God stands revealed or he remains forever unknown. Scientists may discover some of the laws of the universe and conclude that there must be a divine guiding power governing all things. But no man can know, except by revelation, that God is a Holy Man with a body of flesh and bones, that he lives in the family unit, and that he is the personal father of the spirits of all men.
Scientists may discover some of the laws pertaining to creation. They may come to know that creation is reorganization, that the primal elements are arranged in an appointed way to form an earth, and that the laws of physics and chemistry and gravity and what have you always apply. All this may be in the realm of research and reason. But truth-seekers can never know that this earth was first created spiritually; that when it first came into being physically it was paradisiacal in nature; that it then fell to its present mortal state; that there will be a new and changed heaven and a new and changed earth in the Millennial day; and that ultimately it will be a celestial sphere—none of this can be known except by revelation.
Nor can scientists envision the fall, or the atonement, or the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost, or the resurrection, or the procreation by resurrected beings of spirit offspring—all this must be learned by revelation. The theories of the evolutionists—devised by scientists, in academic halls, by the power of reason and the intellect—do not take into account that there was no death until Adam fell; they do not take into account that animals and all forms of life lived as spirit entities before their mortal births; they do not take into account that all forms of life will be resurrected and live forever in immortality. They do not take into account these or ten thousand other gospel verities that can be known only by revelation.
Revelation, both that found in the standard works and personal revelation, meant everything to Elder McConkie in the pursuit of knowledge.
Speaking of Elder McConkie upon his passing, Elder Packer queried and answered: “Where is Bruce McConkie now? He’s with his Lord.”
And then he matter-of-factly stated: “When the refining process [the Celestial resurrection] is complete, I know something of how he will appear. He will be glorious.” Elder McConkie, as a resurrected being, will look just as Jesus appeared to Elder Packer—glorious!
And as a side note, Elder Boyd K. Packer issued something of a prophecy that has now long been true. He asked, “What will we do without him?” And then answered:
Others, of course, will receive the fiery darts fashioned on the anvils of the adversary, and in his own words, ‘The wagon train will move on.’ . . . If you heard the sermons of Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks at the last conference, you will know the Lord is preparing others as he prepared Bruce R. McConkie for the holy apostleship. . . .
(I think we can definitely say that Elders Nelsen and Oaks became noble and great Prophets of God.)
Did Elder McConkie have a sense of humor?
Yes, though it took him years to develop and it was rarely apparent at the pulpit which is where members came to know him. I will again let Elder Packer speak about him: “I have delighted in his sparkling sense of humor that few men could equal.”
(Those interested in a healthy dose of McConkie humor might listen to one of his last major addresses, given at Rick’s College.)
What led Elder McConkie to write Mormon Doctrine?
I cannot say for sure what caused Elder McConkie to begin the mentally and spiritually strenuous work preparing his famous, best-selling, and superbly insightful book.
As a young man he had written an informal commentary-like collection of notes on the Book of Mormon solely for his own benefit, but he threw away those extensive notes since they had served their purpose.
Later, when a young member of the First Council of Seventy, he worked on passages from the Journal of Discourses, hoping to publish a ten-volume digest that removed false doctrines found therein. This project was halted by President J. Reuben Clark, who thought it presumptuous for a General Authority Seventy to be censoring (even deceased) apostles and prophets. I don’t think Elder McConkie fully agreed with Pres. Clark on the matter but without hesitation did as asked.
(Today we know that the sermons published in the Journal of Discourses were often altered by short-hand stenographers in the long-hand transcription phase and again in the preparation-for-printing stage, and therefore is not fully reliable as a record of verbatim discourses.)
On graduation from law school, Bruce R. McConkie worked in various legal capacities for a few years, but soon found he wanted to get away from the underbelly of society that lawyers often must deal with. He also desired to write professionally, something for which he had considerable talent. So he went to work for the Deseret News where he wrote editorials and reported news.
In the 1950s Elder McConkie gathered and edited a collection of the teachings of his father-in-law, President Joseph Fielding Smith. Published in three volumes, Doctrines of Salvation was topically organized and covered a wide range of gospel subjects.
I speculate that these early projects gave Elder McConkie the idea for Mormon Doctrine, but I cannot say for sure.
Did Bruce R. McConkie go against the wishes of President David O. McKay when he published a second edition of Mormon Doctrine?
Absolutely not. This is one of those falsehoods that sadly goes around. In his biography of his father, Joseph Fielding McConkie wrote:
On July 5, 1966, President McKay invited Elder McConkie into his office and gave approval for the book to be reprinted if appropriate changes were made and approved. Elder Spencer W. Kimball was assigned to be Elder McConkie’s mentor in making those changes. Joseph also queried: “Haven’t you heard people say that Bruce McConkie had the book reprinted contrary to the direction of the First Presidency?”
To which he answered: “Yes, but if they would think about it, that assertion does not make much sense. The publisher was Bookcraft, not Bruce McConkie, and Bookcraft was always very careful to follow the direction of the Brethren. It could also be noted that Mormon Doctrine was reissued in 1966, and its author was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1972. It takes a pretty good imagination to suppose that a man who flagrantly ignored the direction of the president of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would be called to fill a vacancy in that body.
Whatever faults one might want to attribute to Bruce McConkie, no one who knew him could question his integrity or his discipline, particularly where matters of priesthood direction were concerned. Never in my life have I known a man who was more disciplined or obedient to priesthood direction. Bruce McConkie would have died a thousand deaths before he would have disregarded the prophet’s counsel or that of the Quorum of the Twelve. . . . He followed counsel and minded his business. I have never met, nor do I expect to meet, a man more disciplined to the order of the priesthood.
To suppose that he would reject the counsel of the president of the Church or the Quorum of the Twelve is to completely misrepresent the man and the truth.
Further, he wrote:
How do we know President McKay directed your father to reprint Mormon Doctrine?
Response: My father told me that President McKay had so directed him. In addition to that, I am in possession of handwritten papers by my father affirming that direction.
As another witness to the statements found above, the following is transcribed from an audio interview of Oscar W. McConkie Jr. (held on June 26, 2017), who worked for decades as a lawyer for the Church’s legal firm:
Along with this evidence, I note that the biography of President McKay by Gregory Prince and William Robert Wright was strongly biased against Mormon Doctrine. It is apparent to me, and also puzzling, that while these authors had access to both my biography of Elder McConkie and also Joseph Fielding McConkie’s, they completely ignored both.
I quote below what I wrote elsewhere, in the Bruce R. McConkie chapter of my 2017 book, I Know He Lives:
In 1958 Elder McConkie’s seminal encyclopedic work, Mormon Doctrine, was published. Because it explained gospel doctrines clearly and forcefully, it quickly became a very popular book with latter-day saints. However, the breadth of subjects covered (some outside the range of LDS doctrine), the authoritative tone in which they were explained, and the controversial nature of some of the content, caused the First Presidency to take a close look at it.
Both Elders Marion G. Romney and Mark E. Petersen were assigned by the First Presidency to submit written reports on their findings after reviewing the book. These reports eventually led to a meeting between the First Presidency (then consisting of David O. McKay, J. Reuben Clark, and Henry D. Moyle), Elder Mark E. Petersen, and Elder McConkie, to discuss his best-selling book.
When they called Bruce in, they asked him to take a seat, but he said he would prefer to stand. Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve, present and accounted for during this meeting, did most of the talking.
President Henry D. Moyle (the second counselor) indicated that on this occasion the First Presidency gave Bruce a “horsewhipping.” They were really hard on him and “raked him over the coals” for a period of time.
He further indicated that it was the worst criticism that that First Presidency had ever given a General Authority; that he went home feeling badly that they had been so hard on Bruce—it was basically Mark E. Petersen doing the talking and the First Presidency going along with and backing him up in his criticisms of Bruce’s book; that Elder Petersen was the real force behind the (temporary) discontinuance of Mormon Doctrine; he was the reason the First Presidency gave it so much attention and why Bruce got in so much trouble over it.
President Moyle indicated that Bruce simply listened to what they had to say, didn’t offer any arguments or protestations, said he had no questions at the end of the meeting when he was asked if he did, and he left. . . .
Elder Marion G. Romney really didn’t think that much was wrong with Mormon Doctrine, and President Joseph Fielding Smith didn’t think anything was wrong with it.
I have thought long and hard about why Elder Petersen didn’t like Mormon Doctrine and said he found more than a thousand errors in it. As I have read the doctrinal writings of each man, it has become apparent to me that they really thought very much alike, with very similar doctrinal views. They both denounced error and intellectualism when they saw it, and the error of worldly philosophies. Many of their talks are similar in doctrinal content.
Joseph Fielding McConkie believed that Elder Petersen’s distrust of the JST (or the Inspired Version) of the Bible may have caused him to designate every use of that work in Mormon Doctrine as an “error.” This is not known for sure, but if that was the case, then such references would not be considered errors today.
Joseph McConkie also wrote: “Even today, my experience suggests that his unequivocal stand on organic evolution is the primary reason the book has been criticized. Critics frequently attempt to give credence to their objection by finding fault with the author or the book on any count they can.”
Joseph McConkie wondered, in writing, how anyone could justify ignoring or discounting all that Elder McConkie ever said or wrote throughout his ministry, by stating that he (may have) got something wrong in Mormon Doctrine. To say that everything taught must be distrusted because someone is found to be wrong about a few things, would surely make everything all of us say untrustworthy, for whom among us is perfect in all we say, write, or teach?
Personally, I believe that with Elders Petersen and McConkie, while not close in mortality, that all is forgiven and forgotten in the spirit world where they both valiantly continue to serve the same beloved kingdom and cause they did here.
Interestingly, President J. Reuben Clark may have prepared Elder McConkie for his soul-trying experience meeting with the First Presidency regarding Mormon Doctrine.
At the time of his call to the First Council of Seventy, President Clark said to him, “that I would get sat on [rebuked], but to take it in good stead, and wherein I was wrong to correct the errors, but that wherein I was right, not to worry about the rebuffs.”
Elder McConkie seemed to follow that counsel well and instructed his children to do the same.
Who was the “young bishop” Matthew Cowley referred to in his “Miracles” talk, and how does he figure into Bruce R. McConkie’s life?
Elder Matthew Cowley gave a very famous BYU devotional address in 1953. In this inspired oration, Elder Cowley spoke of participating in many miracles, including those of healing the sick and raising the dead by virtue of faith and the holy priesthood. Therein, Elder Cowley mentioned that he often took a young bishop with him when he visited hospitals to bless the sick.
He did not name this bishop in the talk, but many years after first hearing a recording of this talk, I learned that the young bishop was Glen L. Rudd (later a general authority).
Glen Rudd served as a missionary under President Matthew Cowley in New Zealand, where they became close. Not many years after his release as a missionary, Glen became Bishop Rudd. Only a few months after President Cowley’s release as a mission president, he became Elder Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Cowley disliked church business meetings and often “played hooky” and took Bishop Rudd with him to go bless the sick. While Elder Cowley enjoyed many gifts of the Spirit, his greatest gift was that of faith and he used it when blessing others to marvelous effect.
One day when Elder Rudd happened to walk by my office in the Church Office Building, he noticed my (recently published) biography of Bruce R. McConkie on my desk and immediately wanted to talk about him. I then learned that he had been neighbors with Elder McConkie for years; their children had grown up together and they had gone on vacations together. We became friends and over the years I learned that Elder Rudd had been friends and close associates with most of the apostles and general authorities of the Church for the previous half-century plus.
It was Elder Rudd who told me what President Moyle had told him about the First Presidency’s dealings with Elder McConkie regarding Mormon Doctrine, as related above.
Elder Harold B. Lee was like a second father to Glen Rudd. President Thomas S. Monson was one of his dear friends, as was Elder McConkie.
When I visited with him and listened to him tell stories, or read his extensive personal writings and records, I felt almost like I was being informally invited into an inner circle of beloved faithful and valiant general authority associates I would never personally know myself in this life.
What was Bruce R. McConkie’s role in the publication of the 1978 edition of the scriptures?
Chapters in both my and Joseph Fielding McConkie’s biographies of Elder McConkie cover this subject and his contributions in some detail. In short, he wrote the chapter and section headings for all the standard works, and did a great deal of work on the introductory material and the Bible Dictionary.
Elder McConkie, Elder Packer, and Elder Monson made up the Scriptures Publications Committee of the Church. There were sub-members of the committee working under them and the full Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve gave them oversight and final approval for major decisions.
Other suggestions he made, such as that the Lectures on Faith be added to the Pearl of Great Price, were not approved. Elder McConkie loved and often quoted from the lectures, but research was starting to come out that questioned the extent of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s involvement with them.
Joseph Fielding McConkie shared Elder McConkie’s personal list of items, outside the standard works, that he considered inspired and therefore uncanonized scripture:
“The body of manuscripts that Bruce McConkie regarded as scripture included measurably more than the standard works and the Joseph Smith Translation.
His own list of scripture included the Wentworth letter, in which Joseph Smith briefly told the story of the First Vision and the coming of Moroni and to which he appended the Articles of Faith; the Lectures on Faith, which were published with the Doctrine and Covenants until 1921; the official Exposition of the First Presidency on the Origin of Man, issued in 1912; the Doctrinal Exposition of the First Presidency on the Father and the Son, issued in 1916; the King Follett Discourse given by Joseph Smith at a conference of the Church on April 7, 1844, and the similar discourse given in the Grove at Nauvoo in June of the same year. To him these documents could very properly have been added to our present canon.”
As Joseph McConkie hinted, Elder McConkie did in fact recommend to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve that most of these named items be canonized. A mock-up of a proposed new expanded edition of the Pearl of Great Price was created, and even copyrighted by President Spencer W. Kimball, that contained these extra items (that Elder McConkie divided into verses), but ultimately went unapproved.
Elder Packer declared that Elder McConkie had been raised up by the Lord to do this scriptural work and had a greater impact on the finished product than either he or Elder Monson (who was a printing specialist).
One evidence that Elder McConkie’s contribution was so valuable lies in the fact that not many substantial changes were made in the revised 2013 editions of the scriptures.
Describe the last few weeks before Bruce R. McConkie’s death.
Those last few weeks are fairly well described in the two mentioned biographies (mine and Joseph’s) written about him. They include his final conference address and a number of blessings given him by his apostolic associates, his brother Brit McConkie (who until his passing was one of my mentors for twenty years), and his sons, along with members of the First Presidency.
What is not well known is that Elder McConkie believed he would be healed and resisted all contrary suggestions until almost the very end. He simply knew that in and of himself—not including other family and Quorum associates and friends—he had enough faith to be healed. And the fact is that he did.
He stated it this way: “I have enough faith myself that the Lord can heal me. My family has enough faith that He could heal me, and my Brethren have enough faith that I could be healed. So it is not a matter of having faith anymore. It is simply a matter of where the Lord wants me the most.”
As Amelia said, “He felt that he would be healed.” But in his case, after a temporary reprieve, it was to be otherwise.
At his funeral, President Gordon B. Hinckley explained the situation:
Without denying the faith of his loved ones, the Lord in His greater wisdom moved in another direction. The Lord put Elder McConkie where he was. The Lord has now taken him. The Lord placed him as an apostle for a purpose. He has taken him for a reason.
At a previous funeral years before (that of his brother James), President Clark had shared this thought: “As I said to brother [Oscar] McConkie yesterday, I am persuaded that the Lord never gives us sufficient faith to thwart His purposes.”
Elder McConkie lived for well over a year after being told by his doctor that he could only live for a few weeks, which is ample evidence that all the faith and prayers in his behalf worked until all the Lord wanted him to do was accomplished.
He was originally diagnosed with colon (bowel) cancer. Both he and Amelia were caught off guard by this diagnosis.
Unbeknownst to her, I overheard Amelia telling someone that, when the doctor opened me up, he found that the bowel cancer had spread beyond the liver and was in other parts of my body. In my then existing state of stupor and understanding, I gained the impression they had no alternative but to sew me up, as the expression has it.
Further, and this is an example all faithful people should follow, he wrote,
Obviously I counseled with the Lord in repeated secret prayers, giving thanks for my many blessings and pleading fervently for those additional blessings I so much desired.
It came into my mind repeatedly to thank the Lord for his goodness and grace unto me and mine in days past and in the present hour. I thanked him for life itself; for giving me this mortal probation in which I might seek salvation and gain immortality and eternal life; for letting me be born in the dispensation of the Fulness of Times, when the fulness of the everlasting gospel was on earth; for my birth under the covenant as a natural heir to all of the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I thanked him for my wife Amelia and for the choice spirits sent to us as our sons and daughters; for the fact they were all true to the faith; that they in turn loved the Lord and kept the commandments and were bringing up their children in light ant truth; and for the love and peace and unity that prevailed in our family circle. I told the Lord that though I did not know all his purposes, and was not able to judge whether there was more need for me here in mortality or in the spirit world, . . .
Accordingly, I pled that if it agreed with his will it seemed proper to me that I be left to serve in this sphere. I also told the Lord that I was in his hands; did not desire to run counter to his will; and would submit to any eventuality that he in his wisdom deemed proper. . . .
Having so stated I asked, in faith, that I might have life and health and vigor and all my faculties that I might go forward in my ministry as long as it seemed good to the Lord for me to serve here. . . .
Mindful of the prayers of my brethren of the Twelve, there came unto my heart the feeling that they were the best men on earth and that I had a great love for them individually and collectively. I resolved that I will never say a derogatory thing about any one of them, and that in all our deliberations I will speak discreetly, with restraint, and temperately, using the best wisdom and inspiration I can obtain.
(This musing puts me in mind of a statement in a talk by Elder David A. Bednar some years ago, in which he also stated that he believed the First Presidency and Twelve are the best men on earth; I agree with them wholeheartedly.)
Continuing, Elder McConkie wrote:
Mindful of the faith and prayers of my family, I felt a renewed appreciation for each one of them and reaffirmed my determination to stand as a light and a guide to them, . . .
I thought also of President Clark’s statement, made at the funeral of Elder Matthew Cowley, that no righteous man is ever taken before his time. I hoped I might qualify as one of those so acclaimed and that my time had not come. Out of it all I seemed to feel that all would be well; that I would live and minister among men; and that this was not to be the end of my mortal probation.
And it was indeed not yet the end. When Elder Packer found out what Elder McConkie’s first cancer diagnosis was and how little time the doctor had given him to live, he called Amelia and told her, “I came to the conclusion that we cannot lose him, there is no one else in the Church at this time that can do what he does and what Bruce does is needed too much to let him go.”
And what were those things Bruce did? Elder Packer gave him a blessing in which he pled with the Lord to allow him to remain in mortality so he could preach, teach, and write, to the lofty levels and heights of insight, inspiration, knowledge, and understanding that this doctrinal giant could yet provide the Church.
Both Elder Packer’s and Elder McConkie’s brother Brit’s blessings stated that there were those on the other side of the veil joining in faith and prayer that Elder McConkie could stay in mortality longer. Elder McConkie was administered to by Elders Maxwell, Faust, Packer, and President Hinckley, along with his own sons, among others. The Lord heard and granted his apostle some extra time. But the cancer eventually came back with a vengeance. Elder McConkie lost his appetite and had other complications usual with cancer patients.
It was on February 18, 1985, that he wrote the bulk of his final conference talk, titled The Purifying Power of Gethsemane. He read it first to his Amelia, who stopped cooking an apple pie to listen.
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.
Elder McConkie managed to get to the Tabernacle, and Elder Packer protected him from distractions that would drain his meager remaining strength as they found their seats.
He spoke second, after President Ezra Taft Benson, and left after that first session concluded.
As he left the Tabernacle, barely able to walk, President Hinckley took his arm and said, “You have done all that you can do. It is enough. The Lord asks no more. Go home and rest.”
Yet he still believed he would be healed. As Amelia phrased it, “Many, including Bruce, still felt that the Lord’s healing hand could and would reverse the course.” At a family gathering he stated: “The work is true. I don’t care if I live or die as long as I do his will . . . but if I die, the burden will be upon your mother.” . . . “The Lord has blessed you and will continue to bless you.”
Elder Packer visited and told Amelia that “We witnessed a miracle in the extra year and four months we had Bruce after his first ‘sentence of death’ was pronounced. . . . But, the crowning moment came as Bruce spoke in conference. I felt this was the last thing he had to do to complete the work he had been called to do.”
Before he left, he gave Elder McConkie one last priesthood blessing. Amelia summarized what was said thusly:
Elder Packer recounted the purposes of mortality, reminding Bruce that we knew we would face trials and tests on earth and we had agreed to do so. He said that even now the Lord could heal him, that he could rebuke this disease, but if it was the Lord’s will to take him there was purpose in it. He counseled him to be meek and willing and not to fight against the Lord’s purposes.
He talked of his great love for Bruce, telling him that he was closer to him than any of the other brethren, not that he loved them less, but because Bruce had taught him so much. He had learned about courage as he watched Bruce speak out even when he had to stand alone. Because of this, he too had more courage.
He told him that he had been valiant and had done all that the Lord required of him. That he had been allowed to stay to deliver his testimony and that there was more power in that conference than any other in a long time. That he had lived a full, rich life. He told him that he would go over to the other side with the authority of the priesthood that he held. That his keys and position of apostle would go with him.
More was said about Elder McConkie preaching the gospel in the spirit world, as is stated in D&C 138:57.
As Elder Packer left, Elder McConkie said to him, “Boyd . . . I love you. I didn’t want to die.” Elder McConkie then cried and told his wife that Elder Packer, in the blessing, had “sealed me up to die.” He also said, “I do not want to die, but if that’s what the Lord wants, so be it. We must do nothing more. It is in the Lord’s hands.”
From then on, family were instructed to pray that he die, not that he live. And such soon became the case.
(For those who don’t know, in earlier decades in the Church, it became a common practice, though it was never a formal ordinance, to seal someone up to death when blessing a critically ill person of faith. This practice is now discouraged and is seldom done, but when prompted, the inspiration of the Lord should be followed as Brother Packer did.)
Elder McConkie’s mother, Vivian McConkie, soon visited him and specifically requested that when he got to the other side, he should tell his father Oscar to come and get her, her bags were packed.
Bruce died on April 19, 1985, and did as asked—and Oscar came and got her three weeks later.
What was the subject of Bruce R. McConkie’s last talk in General Conference?
Elder McConkie’s final general conference talk (and final talk period) on the atonement of Jesus Christ, given in April 1985, is today considered one of the greatest and most famous ever given in the Tabernacle or in a general conference.
This is not simply because of the unusually fine expressiveness of the language used, but really because of the power of the Holy Spirit that accompanied its delivery and the truths presented. It was an occasion where the Holy Spirit carried the message into the hearts of listeners almost as though an angel were speaking.
Elder McConkie had experienced something like unto this previously in his ministry. Of his April 1972 general conference talk, he said:
He [the Lord] poured out upon me and the whole congregation his Spirit in a manner far exceeding anything else that had ever happened to me in connection with any talk or sermon I have ever delivered. What I said on that occasion came from him so that the attending spirit carried the message into the hearts of people with convincing power.
His wife Amelia confirmed this statement with her own experience and impressions:
Bruce later shared with me that he felt the Spirit rest upon him as it never had before in his life’s experience. About halfway through his talk I became aware that there was an absolute stillness in the whole Tabernacle. The cameras that incessantly clicked during every other talk were quiet; there was not a cough or a movement; and every ear seemed tuned to each word he spoke. President Lee told him he had lifted up [the spiritual level of] the whole conference.
After serving for some thirteen years (after that talk) as a special witness in the apostleship, one can only imagine the even greater presence of the Spirit that accompanied his final testimony. Over the years, I have encountered statements and reminiscences from many people in attendance confirming how special and powerful that message was to them. There is no question the Lord used that occasion to strengthen many members’ testimonies of the living Jesus and His infinite atoning sacrifice.
What are Dennis B. Horne’s favorite Bruce R. McConkie quotes?
Among too many to include are these that make my soul sing because of the blessed truths in them:
Bruce R. McConkie quotes
Perfect Testimony of Jesus
“The first of these gifts listed in our modern revelation on spiritual gifts is the gift of testimony, the gift of revelation, the gift of knowing of the truth and divinity of the work. This gift is elsewhere described as the testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy. This is my gift. I know this work is true. 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. . . .
“I have what is known as “the testimony of Jesus,” which means that I know by personal revelation from the Holy Spirit to my soul that Jesus is the Lord.
“I asked the Lord what he would have me say on this occasion and received the distinct and affirmative impression that I should bear testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.”
“I know there is revelation in the Church because I have received revelation. I know God speaks in this day because he has spoken to me.
“Over the years I have felt the spirit of Inspiration many times and have had great truths revealed to me. There have been a few times when I have prevailed upon the Lord to speak to me and give counsel and direction in direct words.”
“Those who study, ponder, and pray about the scriptures, seeking to understand their deep and hidden meanings, receive from time to time great outpourings of light and knowledge from the Holy Spirit.”
“It is the practice of the Lord to give added knowledge to those upon whose hearts the true meanings and intents of the scriptures have been impressed. Many great doctrinal revelations come to those who preach from the scriptures. When they are in tune with the Infinite, the Lord lets them know, first, the full and complete meaning of the scriptures they are expounding, and then he ofttimes expands their views so that new truths flood in upon them, and they learn added things that those who do not follow such a course can never know.”
“I would hope that . . . [others] have had the same experience that has been mine on many occasions. In the spirit of prayer, while reading and pondering the holy word, new views, added concepts, truths theretofore unknown, have suddenly dawned upon me. Doctrines that were dim and hidden and little known, have, in an instant, been shown forth with a marvelous clarity and in wondrous beauty.”
“I have spent many hours poring over and pondering the scriptures. In seeking to learn the doctrines of salvation, I have studied, weighed, and compared what the various prophets have said about the same subjects. Time and again, after much praying and pondering about a given point, new and added concepts have burst upon me, showing deep and hidden truths that I had never before known.”
Portions of Truth Prepared for
“The sealed portion of the Book of Mormon contains a full account of the creation, which also is deliberately withheld from the world at this time, but which will be known again during the Millennium.
“There is no question that if it were revealed to the world, or even to the generality of church members, at this time, it would do more harm than good. Obviously it contains so much that is diametrically opposed to the accepted theories of the day, so much that those who are weak in the faith would not accept, so much meat for people who drink only milk, that it would drive the evolutionists in the Church even farther from the standard of truth than is now the case: The Lord in his infinite wisdom grants unto the children of men only that portion of truth which they are prepared to receive.”
Bonus quotes from President Russell M. Nelson
Elder Bruce R. McConkie was a great friend. His door was always open to me, and I frequently imposed upon his graciousness, asking him questions that possibly only he could answer.
Occasionally, I would have an idea I wanted to discuss or had a question. I would knock on his door, and he was always gracious, always warmly welcoming. When I could see this was an opportunity to learn from him, I would ask him to put his remarks on pause for a minute while I called Elder Oaks and asked him to come up so we could converse with Elder McConkie together. That was a rare privilege.
Bonus quotes from President Dallin H. Oaks
(Pres. Oaks had asked Elder McConkie to review a temple dedication talk)
Then he enthusiastically and fervently clapped me on the shoulders with his huge hands . . . grinned his big grin and said, ‘But the best thing about this talk is that it shows the direction you are taking. It is a genuinely doctrinal talk. It is apostolic!” . . . I was so pleased at this comment about my talk as I do wish to understand and expound doctrine, and there is no living apostle whom I respect more in that sphere than Bruce R. McConkie. I told him I wanted to be one who preaches doctrine.
And from a note to Amelia after Elder McConkie’s passing:
I read choice books a few pages at a time, so I can savor them and think about their implications. Proceeding in that manner, I have just finished reading [Elder McConkie’s] A New Witness for the Articles of Faith. This is undoubtedly the most profound and inspirational doctrinal book I have ever read. It has and will have a great influence on my thinking and my ministry.
Subscribe to our free email list to be instantly notified of new content.
- Elder McConkie and the 1978 Priesthood Revelation
- The Letters of Bruce R. McConkie and Eugene England
- From the Desk’s Joseph Smith Page
- The Biography of Dallin H. Oaks by Richard Turley
- See How the Church Changed in Remarkable ‘Saints 3’
Bruce R. McConkie resources
Bruce R. McConkie talks
- The Purifying Power of Gethsemane
- Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
- Lord, Increase Our Faith
- The Lord God of Joseph Smith
- Making Your Calling and Election Sure
Books and articles about Bruce R. McConkie
- Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life and Teachings (2nd Edition)
- Elder Bruce R. McConkie: Preacher of Righteousness
- In Memoriam: Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Advocate for Truth
- The Story Behind ‘I Believe in Christ’
- Bruce R. McConkie’s Final Testimony
Bruce R. McConkie and Mormon Doctrine resources
- Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s Son Shares His Father’s Legacy
- Landmark ‘Mormon Doctrine’ Goes out of Print
- David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
- The Bruce R. McConkie Story: Reflections of a Son
- The End of Bruce R. McConkie’s ‘Mormon Doctrine’
Bruce R. McConkie miscellany
Readers must login to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website to access many the following Bruce R. McConkie audio files:
- Bruce R. McConkie’s Call as a General Authority
- Elder McConkie’s First General Conference Talk
- A Young Bruce R. McConkie Speaks in 1950
- Elder McConkie Hears the Voice of the Lord in His Mind
- Bruce R. McConkie Gives One of the Shortest Talks in General Conference History
- Elder McConkie’s Last Conference Talk as a Member of the First Council of the Seventy
- Elder McConkie’s First Conference Talk after Being Ordained an Apostle
Elder Bruce R. McConkie books
- A New Witness for the Articles of Faith
- Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol. 1
- Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol. 2
- Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol. 3
- Doctrinal New Testament Commentary Volume 1: The Gospels
- Doctrinal New Testament Commentary Volume 2: Acts–Philippians
- Doctrinal New Testament Commentary Volume 3: Colossians–Revelation
- Mormon Doctrine
- The Mortal Messiah, Volume 1
- The Mortal Messiah, Volume 2
- The Mortal Messiah, Volume 3
- The Mortal Messiah, Volume 4
- The Promised Messiah
- The Millennial Messiah