The Purifying Power of Gethsemane

As we are in Easter season, it is appropriate to ponder on the life, teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ. One of the best talks given by Latter-day Saint leaders on the subject is “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”, Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony. The talk was discussed in a recent post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to the full discussion.

Image of Jesus praying in Gethsemane, created using OpenArt AI image generator

The post was quick to point out how the talk was not an isolated incident of Elder McConkie testifying of Christ:

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.”

In the first of these, he introduced his poem, “I Believe in Christ,” and in the second he discussed how “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.”

In the immediate context of “the Purifying Power of Gethsemane”, however, Bruce R. McConkie was suffering from cancer and knew that he would soon die:

Elder 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.” …

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. …

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.

He knew that this was going to be his last testimony and wanted to make sure he had the opportunity to share it.

One particularly touching story from his preparation to give the talk came from a pre-read he offered to his wife:

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 was touched as her husband shared his testimony.

He gave the talk in the April 1985 general conference (the same year that “I Believe in Christ” was published in the new hymnal). Among other things, he stated that:

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. …

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.

It is a beautiful and powerful testimony.

For more on Bruce R. McConkie’s final testimony, head on over to the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk to read the full discussion. While you’re there, check out the Thomas S. Monson quotes page!