Unlike last week’s sermon, this sermon is widely known among members of the Church, though usually under the designation, “Bruce R. McConkie’s Last Talk.” I have written briefly about this sermon before on Times & Seasons:
I love Elder McConkie. After I joined the Church in my second year at BYU, he quickly became my favorite Apostle. (Is it all right to favor some Apostles over others?) I saw him at a BYU devotional (fireside?) and was very impressed. After returning from my mission, I attended the General Conference session where he gave his last talk — do you all remember that? Amazing! One of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life.
My presence at the session of General Conference was pure chance. Earlier in the week, I had resolved with another member of my BYU ward to attend a session of General Conference. We drove to Salt Lake City the night before, stayed overnight at a friend’s house, and proceeded to Temple Square early on Saturday morning. We were seated in the upper level of the Tabernacle, stage left, and I remember watching with a tinge of horror as a jaundiced Elder McConkie proceeded to the rostrum. He had seemed such a powerful man when I saw him before my mission, and now he was frail. But by the time he finished his concluding thought, the entire congregation was in tears: “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.”
In re-reading the sermon for this post, one aspect strikes me as incongruous with Elder McConkie’s sure testimony, and that was his use — three times — of the word “incomprehensible” in describing the Atonement. He had labored so long to comprehend and explain the Gospel, yet there he was at the end of his earthly labor, confessing the limits of his knowledge. I find hope for myself in this, that even in my ignorance of nuance and detail, I can gain a sure knowledge of my Savior.
In writing about Elder McConkie, our own Nate Oman has stated: “I realized that what I took as faux-Churchillian rhetoric in Elder McConkie was actually something much more daring. Elder McConkie ultimately wasn’t trying to produce rhetoric, scholarship, or even theology. He was trying to write scripture.” On this occasion, Nate and I agree that Elder McConkie succeeded.
Despite much effort, I was unable to locate an audio or video version of the talk online, but you can read the text in any number of locations, including here.