Elder Russell M Nelson Performs Open Heart Surgery on President Spencer W Kimball

Serious health problems plagued Elder Kimball. In 1957 throat cancer threatened to rob him of his voice. He agonized, “Shall I ever speak at another temple dedication? Shall I ever preach again?” Following much prayer and fasting, however, the needed operation proved to be less radical than expected. Nevertheless, Elder Kimball lost most of his vocal cords. As he learned to speak again, he continued to ask himself, “Will my gruff fringe voice be an affront to the people?”4 It was not long, however, until the Saints came to respect and heed and love Elder Kimball’s “new voice.”

Then in 1972 a problem with his heart recurred, and he underwent a particularly complicated open-heart operation. With the faith of many people and through the outstanding skill of a devoted Latter-day Saint surgeon, Dr. Russell M. Nelson, Elder Kimball’s life once again was spared. Just prior to the surgery, the First Presidency blessed Dr. Nelson. “They blessed me that the operation would be performed without error, that all would go well, . . . for I had been raised up by the Lord to perform this operation.” It went flawlessly. As Elder Kimball’s heart resumed beating with power and vigor, Dr. Nelson recalled, “The Spirit told me that I had just operated upon a man who would become president of the Church.”5 Despite physical difficulties, Elder Kimball set a legendary example of long hours of selfless and devoted service in building up the kingdom of God. A motto prominently displayed on his desk proclaimed simply “Do It.” These experiences helped prepare Spencer W. Kimball to lead the Church when the call came.

5. Russell Marion Nelson, From Heart to Heart (Salt Lake City: Russell M. Nelson, 1979), pp. 164–65.

A Powerful Missionary Experience of Hugh B. Brown

A young, inexperienced elder from Canada named Hugh B. Brown was laboring in Cambridge in 1904. On his arrival in that city, he saw posters in the train station declaring “Beware of the vile deceivers; the Mormons are returning. Drive them out.” For two days he went from house to house leaving tracts where he could and unsuccessfully attempting to engage Britons in gospel conversations. 18 One Saturday evening, as he later remembered, a knock came on the door.

“The lady of the house answered the door. I heard a voice say, ‘Is there an Elder Brown lives here?’ I thought, ‘Oh, oh, here it is!’

“She said, ‘Why, yes, he’s in the front room. Come in, please.’

“He came in and said, ‘Are you Elder Brown?’

“I was not surprised that he was surprised. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’

“He said, ‘Did you leave this tract at my door?’

“Well, my name and address were on it. Though I was attempting at that time to get ready to practice law, I didn’t know how to answer it. I said, ‘Yes, sir, I did.’

“He said, ‘Last Sunday there were 17 of us heads of families left the Church of England. We went to my home where I have a rather large room. Each of us has a large family, and we filled the large room with men, women and children. We decided that we would pray all through the week that the Lord would send us a new pastor. When I came home tonight I was discouraged, I thought our prayer had not been answered. But when I found this tract under my door, I knew the Lord had answered our prayer. Will you come tomorrow night and be our new pastor?’

“Now, I hadn’t been in the mission field three days. I didn’t know anything about missionary work, and he wanted me to be their pastor. But I was reckless enough to say, ‘Yes, I’ll come.’ And I repented from then till the time of the meeting.

“He left, and took my appetite with him! I called in the lady of the house and told her I didn’t want any tea [supper]. I went up to my room and prepared for bed. I knelt at my bed. My young brothers and sisters, for the first time in my life I talked with God. I told Him of my predicament. I pleaded for His help. I asked Him to guide me. I pleaded that He would take it off my hands. I got up and went to bed and couldn’t sleep and got out and prayed again, and kept that up all night—but I really talked with God.”

He spent the next day without breakfast or lunch, walking and worrying that he had to be the religious leader for these people.

“Finally it came to the point where the clock said 6:45. I got up and put on my long Prince Albert coat, my stiff hat which I had acquired in Norwich, took my walking cane (which we always carried in those days), my kid gloves, put a Bible under my arm, and dragged myself down to that building, literally. I just made one track all the way.

“Just as I got to the gate the man came out, the man I had seen the night before. He bowed very politely and said, ‘Come in, Reverend, sir.’ I had never been called that before. I went in and saw the room filled with people, and they all stood up to honor their new pastor, and that scared me to death.

“Then I had come to the point where I began to think what I had to do, and I realized I had to say something about singing. I suggested that we sing ‘O My Father.’ I was met with a blank stare. We sang it—it was a terrible cowboy solo. Then I thought, if I could get these people to turn around and kneel by their chairs, they wouldn’t be looking at me while I prayed. I asked them if they would and they responded readily. They all knelt down and I knelt down, and for the second time in my life I talked with God. All fear left me. I didn’t worry any more. I was turning it over to Him.

“I said to Him, among other things, ‘Father in Heaven, these folks have left the Church of England. They have come here tonight to hear the truth. You know that I am not prepared to give them what they want, but Thou art, O God, the one that can; and if I can be an instrument through whom You speak, very well, but please take over.’

“When we arose most of them were weeping, as was I. Wisely I dispensed with the second hymn, and I started to talk. I talked 45 minutes. I don’t know what I said. I didn’t talk—God spoke through me, as subsequent events proved. And He spoke so powerfully to that group that at the close of that meeting they came and put their arms around me, held my hands. They said, ‘This is what we have been waiting for. Thank God you came.’

“I told you I dragged myself down to that meeting. On my way back home that night I only touched ground once, I was so elated that God had taken off my hands an insuperable task for man.

“Within three months every man, woman and child in that audience was baptized a member of the Church.” 19

19. Father, Are You There?” Brigham Young University fireside address (Provo, 8 Oct. 1967), pp. 13–15.

An Unseen Helping Hand

Shortly after Joseph Smith settled in Far West, Missouri, in March 1838, he had begun preparing for an expanded missionary effort by the Twelve to Great Britain.

Brigham Young was prepared to leave on 14 September, just shortly after his wife, Mary Ann had given birth to a daughter.

On 18 September, Brigham and Heber decided it was time to start on their appointed mission. Both men were so ill that they had to be helped into a wagon.

Elders Young and Kimball were joined en route by George A. Smith. As they traveled Brigham reached into his trunk and always found just enough money for the next stage coach fare. He thought Heber was replenishing the fund, but later discovered that he had not. The brethren had started their trip with $13.50 in donations, yet they spent more than $87 on coach fares. They had no idea how the additional money had gotten into the trunk “except by some unseen agent from the Heavenly world to forward the promulgation of the Gospel.” 7

7. In Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 77

The Greatest Manifestation of the Gift of Healing

Sickness and a Day of God’s Power

In the summer of 1839 the swamp area on the Nauvoo peninsula had not yet been drained. While the Saints gathered, cleared, drained, built, and planted, they were oblivious to the danger of the Anopheles mosquito. This tiny insect, which bred profusely in the swampland and along the Mississippi riverbank, transmitted parasites to the red blood cells of humans by its bite. The disease this caused, characterized by periodic attacks of chills and fever, is now known as malaria, but people in the nineteenth century called it and diseases with similar symptoms the ague (pronounced `a gyu).

Eventually Joseph Smith also became ill, but after several days confinement he was prompted to arise and extend help to others. The day of 22 July was, in the words of Wilford Woodruff, “a day of God’s power” in Nauvoo and Montrose. 12 That morning the Prophet arose and, being filled with the Spirit of the Lord, administered to the sick in his house and in the yard outside. More sick people were down by the river, and there too he administered with great power to the faithful. One such, Henry G. Sherwood, was near death. Joseph stepped to the door of Brother Sherwood’s tent and commanded him to rise and come out; he obeyed and was healed. Elder Heber C. Kimball and others accompanied the Prophet across the river to Montrose. One by one they visited the homes of the Twelve and administered to those who needed a blessing. Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and John Taylor then joined Joseph in his mission of mercy.

Elijah Fordham
Elijah Fordham (1798–1879) accepted the gospel in 1833 in Michigan. In 1835 he was ordained a seventy by Joseph Smith in Kirtland. Following his miraculous healing at the hands of Joseph Smith in Montrose, Iowa, Elijah moved to Nauvoo and worked on the temple until the Saints were forced from Illinois in 1846. He went to Utah in 1850 and continued faithful in the gospel the remainder of his life.
Courtesy of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City

One of the most memorable of the healings in Montrose was that of Elijah Fordham. When the brethren arrived he was lying in bed unable to speak.

“Brother Joseph walked up to Brother Fordham, and took him by the right hand. . . .

“He saw that Brother Fordham’s eyes were glazed, and that he was speechless and unconscious.

“After taking hold of his hand, he looked down into the dying man’s face and said: ‘Brother Fordham, do you not know me?’ At first he made no reply; but we could all see the effect of the Spirit of God resting upon him.

“He again said: ‘Elijah, do you not know me?’

“With a low whisper, Brother Fordham answered, ‘Yes!’

“The Prophet then said, ‘Have you not faith to be healed?’

“The answer, which was a little plainer than before, was: ‘I am afraid it is too late. If you had come sooner, I think it might have been.’

“He had the appearance of a man waking from sleep. It was the sleep of death.

“Joseph then said: ‘Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?’

“‘I do, Brother Joseph,’ was the response.

“Then the Prophet of God spoke with a loud voice, as in the majesty of the Godhead: ‘Elijah, I command you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, to arise and be made whole!’

“The words of the Prophet were not like the words of man, but like the voice of God. It seemed to me that the house shook from its foundation.

“Elijah Fordham leaped from his bed like a man raised from the dead. A healthy color came to his face, and life was manifested in every act.” 13

They next visited Joseph B. Noble, who was also healed. Wilford Woodruff remembered this as the “greatest day for the manifestation of the power of God through the gift of healing since the organization of the Church.” 14

14. Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal, p. 65.

A Pentecostal Season at the Kirtland Temple

The story of the building, preparation, and dedication of the Kirtland Temple is so spiritually rich and filled with visions that I quote below the entire section of the chapter in the Institute manual – ‘Church History in the Fulness of Times’.

A Pentecostal Season

In addition to their great personal efforts, the Saints spent from forty to sixty thousand dollars on the temple. Because they were so willing to sacrifice in building the temple, the Lord poured out great blessings upon them. From 21 January to 1 May 1836 probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and witnessed other unusual spiritual manifestations than during any other era in the history of the Church. Members of the Church saw heavenly messengers in at least ten different meetings, and at five of these gatherings different individuals testified that they had beheld the Savior himself. Many experienced visions, some prophesied, and others spoke in tongues.

One of the most important meetings held in the Kirtland Temple was on Thursday, 21 January 1836. The Prophet recorded the incident:

In the evening “at early candle-light I met with the presidency at the west school room, in the Temple, to attend to the ordinance of anointing our heads with holy oil. . . .

“We then laid our hands upon our aged Father Smith, and invoked the blessings of heaven. . . . The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof. . . . I saw . . . the blazing throne of God. . . . I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.” Joseph Smith also saw many prophets in the celestial kingdom before the scene of his vision shifted (see D&C 137:1, 3–5 ). He then saw the recently appointed Twelve “standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, . . . and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. . . .

“Many of my brethren who received the ordinance [of washing and anointing] with me saw glorious visions also. Angels ministered unto them as well as to myself, and the power of the Highest rested upon us. The house was filled with the glory of God, and we shouted Hosanna to God and the Lamb. . . .

“. . . Some of them saw the face of the Savior, . . . for we all communed with the heavenly host.” 38

Joseph Smith saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom and marvelled because Alvin had died before the gospel was restored. Also with the vision the Lord revealed the principle of mercy: “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God” ( D&C 137:7 ). The Prophet also learned that all children who die before the age of accountability “are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” ( D&C 137:10 ).

Some of the most memorable spiritual experiences occurred on the day the temple was dedicated—Sunday, 27 March 1836. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints came to Kirtland anticipating the great blessings the Lord had promised to bestow upon them. Early on the morning of the temple dedication, hundreds of people gathered outside the temple hoping to attend the dedicatory service. The doors were opened at 8:00 a.m., and the First Presidency assisted in seating the congregation of nearly a thousand people, but many were left outside. When the leaders of the Church were seated at the elevated pulpits and benches at each end of the hall and when all the available seats in the temple were filled, the doors were closed. This left hundreds of people still outside, including many who had sacrificed tremendously for the temple’s construction and had come long distances to attend the dedication. Sensing their disappointment, the Prophet directed them to hold an overflow meeting in the schoolhouse just to the west. The dedicatory service was repeated a second time the following Thursday for their benefit.

After the choir’s opening number, President Sidney Rigdon spoke for two and a half hours declaring that the temple was unique among all the buildings of the world because it was built by divine revelation. After a brief intermission, the officers of the Church were sustained. The climax of the day was the dedicatory prayer, which had previously been given to the Prophet by revelation. He expressed gratitude for God’s blessings and asked the Lord to accept the temple which was built “through great tribulation . . . that the Son of Man might have a place to manifest himself to his people” ( D&C 109:5 ). He petitioned that the blessings promised in the Lord’s initial command to build the temple (see D&C 88:117–21 ) might now be realized, and he prayed that Church leaders, members, and the leaders of nations would be blessed, and that the promised gathering of the scattered remnants of Israel would be accomplished (see D&C 109:60–67 ). This prayer became a pattern for other temple dedicatory prayers.

Kirtland Temple
Kirtland Temple

Following the prayer, the choir sang the hymn “The Spirit of God.” It had been written especially for the dedication by W. W. Phelps. The sacrament was then administered and passed to the congregation. Joseph Smith and others testified that they saw heavenly messengers at the service. The congregation concluded the seven-hour service by standing and rendering the sacred “Hosanna Shout”: “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb, amen, amen, and amen,” repeated three times. Eliza R. Snow said the shout was given “with such power as seemed almost sufficient to raise the roof from the building.” 39

That evening over four hundred priesthood bearers met in the temple. While George A. Smith was speaking, “a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels.” 40 “David Whitmer bore testimony that he saw three angels passing up the south aisle.” 41 “The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple).” Others saw angels hovering over the temple and heard heavenly singing. 42

The most transcendent spiritual manifestation of all occurred a week after the dedication. After the afternoon worship service, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery retired to the Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits in the west end of the lower room of the temple. The canvas partition, called a veil, was lowered so that they could pray in private. As they prayed, “the veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened” ( D&C 110:1 ). They saw a series of remarkable visions. The Lord Jesus Christ appeared, accepted the temple, and promised to manifest himself therein “if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house” ( D&C 110:8 ; see also vv. 2–9 ).

Moses next appeared and restored “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” ( v. 11 ). Elias then conferred “the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham” ( v. 12 ). Finally, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (see Malachi 4:5–6 ) and Moroni’s promise (see D&C 2 ) to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers” ( D&C 110:15 ), Elijah appeared to the Prophet and Oliver testifying that “the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands” in preparation for “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” ( v. 16 ). Through the sealing keys that were restored by Elijah, Latter-day Saints could now perform saving priesthood ordinances in behalf of their kindred dead as well as for the living. These sacred ordinances for the dead were not introduced to the members of the Church until the Nauvoo era.

This great day of visions and revelation occurred on Easter Sunday, 3 April 1836. What better day in the dispensation of the fulness of times to reconfirm the reality of the Resurrection? That weekend was also the Jewish Passover. For centuries Jewish families have left an empty chair at their Passover feasts, anticipating Elijah’s return. Elijah has returned—not to a Passover feast, but to the Lord’s temple in Kirtland.