The Resolve of Obedience

“The Resolve of Obedience,” Ensign, Dec. 1985, 30

In Memoriam: Spencer W. Kimball, 1895–1985

The Resolve of Obedience

President Spencer W. Kimball’s lifelong development toward an abundantly spiritual life is evidenced in his telling of his own experiences. From the beginning, he focused on a foundation of obedience.

The Decisions of Youth

“From my infancy I had heard the Word of Wisdom stories about tea and coffee and tobacco, etc. Nearly every Sunday School day and Primary day we sang lustily, I with the other boys:

That the children may live long,

And be beautiful and strong,

Tea and coffee and tobacco they despise,

Drink no liquor, and they eat

But a very little meat;

They are seeking to be great and good and wise.

(Sing With Me, B–24)

“We sang it time and time again until it became an established part of my vocabulary and my song themes, but more especially my life’s plan. Occasionally some respected speaker said he had never tasted the forbidden things we sang against, and then I made up my mind. Never would I use these forbidden things the prophets preached against. That decision was firm and unalterable. I would not and did not deviate.

“In 1937 my wife and I were touring Europe. In France I sat at a banquet table of the Rotary International Convention in a fashionable hotel. The large, spacious banquet room held hundreds of people. The many waiters moved about the tables, and at every place besides plenteous silver, linen, and fancy serving dishes were seven wine glasses. No one was watching me. The temptation nudged me: Shall I drink it or at least sip it? No one who cares will know. Here was quite a temptation. Shall I or shall I not?

“Then the thought came: But I made a firm resolution when a boy that I would never touch the forbidden things. I had already lived a third of a century firm and resolute. I would not break my record now.” (New Era, Sept. 1981, p. 50.)

The Resolve to Read the Bible

“Once I heard a forceful appeal by a woman from the Mutual. Perhaps it was the approach she made or perhaps it may have been the mood I was in. She gave a rousing talk on the reading of the scriptures and making them our own; then she stopped her dissertation to ask this mixed congregation, about a thousand of us, ‘How many of you have read the Bible through?’

“I think I was about fourteen years old at the time. An accusing guilt complex spread over me. I had read many books by that time, the funny papers, and light books, but my accusing heart said to me, ‘You, Spencer Kimball, you have never read that holy book. Why?’ I looked around me at the people in front and on both sides of the hall to see if I was alone in my failure to read the sacred book. Of the thousand people, there were perhaps a half dozen who proudly raised their hands. I slumped down in my seat. I had no thought for the others who had also failed, but only a deep accusing thought for myself. In my slumped posture, I condemned no man, only my little insignificant self. I don’t know what other people were doing and thinking. I heard no more of the sermon. It had accomplished its work. The meeting closed. I sought the large double exit door and rushed to my home only a block east of the chapel, and I was gritting my teeth and saying to myself, ‘I will. I will. I will.’

“Entering the back door of our family home, I went to the kitchen shelf where we kept the coal-oil lamps, selected one that was full of oil with a newly trimmed wick, and climbed the stairs to my attic room. There I opened my Bible and began on Genesis, first chapter, and the first verse, and I sat well into the night with Cain and Abel and Adam and Eve and Enoch and Noah and through the flood even to Abraham.” (New Era, Sept. 1981, p. 49.)

“Please! That Is My Lord …”

“In the hospital one day I was wheeled out of the operating room by an attendant who stumbled, and there issued from his angry lips vicious cursing with a combination of the names of the Savior. Even half-conscious, I recoiled and implored: ‘Please! Please! That is my Lord whose names you revile.’

“There was a deathly silence, then a subdued voice whispered, ‘I am sorry.’” (Ensign, Feb. 1981, p. 3.)

“I Promise to Attend”

“When I returned from my mission, I started to do some dating. I was only twenty years old, and I liked the girls. I had many friends. One Saturday night, when I went to college, I invited a young lady to go to a motion picture show, I think it was. When we went to her home, she got some peaches and cream to serve me. I thought she was a wonderful girl because I liked peaches and cream. But I didn’t get up very early the next morning. It was Sunday morning. And when my brother called me I said, “All right, I will after a while.” Then I decided to skip the priesthood meeting that morning. I said, ‘I’ll go to the sacrament meeting tonight.’ That was the great temptation. And so the next week I thought about it very often. ‘Spencer Kimball, you missed another priesthood meeting. When you were baptized, you promised the Lord you would always attend, and here you are missing your priesthood meeting. That is the big temptation. Next Sunday it will be harder and the following Sunday even harder. Now you better get on your toes, Spencer Kimball.’ I made up my mind that week I wouldn’t miss any more priesthood meetings, I promised to attend them. I needed them.” (In San Jose Costa Rica Area Conference Report, Feb. 24, 1977.)

Persuading Others to Obedient Service

“Let me tell you a little experience I had in England. When I was called to go to England to serve the Church there, hardly any of the boys of England were going on missions.

“I was disturbed about it, and so in the stake conference, a large congregation like this, I invited to come up to the stand all of the boys twelve years old. There were about thirty of them. I had already planned this and had sent to the bank and received some ten shilling notes. These ten shilling notes were worth about $1.25 in American money.

“I had the boys stand up in a row and the first one I spoke to I said, ‘What is your name? What ward do you live in? What is your age?’ And then I said to him, ‘Where are you going when you are nineteen years old?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘Yes, you do know. You’re going on a mission.’ And he said, ‘Am I?’ Then I had the next boy come up. I asked him the same question: ‘Where are you going when you’re nineteen years of age?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know.’ And I said, ‘Yes, you do know. You’re going on a mission for the Church.’ And the next boy, when I asked him, said, ‘Oh I’m going on a mission.’

“By the time I got through with those thirty boys, all of them were saying, ‘Yes, I’m going on a mission.’ I gave to each one a ten shilling note and said, ‘This is to start your mission fund.’ And when they had all gone back to the congregation, I said, ‘You tell your daddy and mother that you are going on a mission.’

“I didn’t know how well I’d succeeded until we held a meeting the next week in another community. A twelve-year-old boy came up to me and said, ‘Brother Kimball, I’m going on a mission. I have four times as much money now as you gave me. I told my daddy and my uncles and they gave me little jobs to do.’” (In Tonga Area Conference Report, Feb. 25, 1976.)

Accepting the Call

“I feel extremely humble in this calling that has come to me. Many people have asked me if I was surprised when it came. That, of course, is a very weak word for this experience. I was completely bewildered and shocked. I did have a premonition that this call was coming, but very brief, however. On the eighth of July, when President [J. Reuben] Clark called me I was electrified with a strong presentiment that something of this kind was going to happen. As I came home at noon, my boy was answering the telephone and he said, ‘Daddy, Salt Lake City is calling.’

“I had had many calls from Salt Lake City. They hadn’t ever worried me like this one. I knew that I had no unfinished business in Salt Lake City, and the thought came over me quickly, ‘You’re going to be called to an important position.’ Then I hurriedly swept it from my mind, because it seemed so unworthy and so presumptuous, and I had convinced myself that such a thing was impossible by the time that I heard President Clark’s voice a thousand miles away saying: ‘Spencer, this is Brother Clark speaking. The brethren have just called you to fill one of the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.’

“Like a bolt of lightning it came. I did a great deal of thinking in the brief moments that I was on the wire. There were quite a number of things said about disposing of my business, moving to headquarters, and other things to be expected of me. I couldn’t repeat them all, my mind seemed to be traveling many paths all at once—I was dazed, almost numb with the shock; a picture of my life spread out before me. It seemed that I could see all of the people before me whom I had injured, or who had fancied that I had injured them, or to whom I had given offense, and all the small petty things of my life. I sensed immediately my inability and limitations and I cried back, ‘Not me, Brother Clark! You can’t mean that!’ I was virtually speechless. My heart pounded fiercely.

“I recall two or three years ago, when Brother [Harold B.] Lee was giving his maiden address as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ from this stand, he told us of his experience through the night after he had been notified of his call. I think I now know something about the experience he had. I have been going through it for twelve weeks. I believe the brethren were very kind to me in announcing my appointment when they did so that I might make the necessary adjustments in my business affairs, but perhaps they were more inspired to give me the time that I needed of a long period of purification, for in those long days and weeks I did a great deal of thinking and praying, and fasting and praying. There were conflicting thoughts that surged through my mind—seeming voices saying: ‘You can’t do the work. You are not worthy. You have not the ability’—and always finally came the triumphant thought: ‘You must do the work assigned—you must make yourself able, worthy, and qualified.’ And the battle raged on.

“I remember reading that Jacob wrestled all night, ‘until the breaking of the day,’ (Gen. 32:24) for a blessing; and I want to tell you that for eighty-five nights I have gone through that experience, wrestling for a blessing. Eighty-five times, the breaking of the day has found me on my knees praying to the Lord to help me and strengthen me and make me equal to this great responsibility that has come to me. I have not sought positions nor have I been ambitious. Promotions have continued to come faster than I felt I was prepared for them.

“I remember when I was called to be a counselor in the stake presidency. I was in my twenties. President Grant came down to help to bury my father, who was the former stake president, and reorganize the stake. I was the stake clerk. I recall that some of my relatives came to President Grant, unknown to me, after I had been chosen, and said, ‘President Grant, it’s a mistake to call a young man like that to a position of responsibility and make an old man of him and tie him down.’ Finally, after some discussion, President Grant said very calmly, but firmly, ‘Well, Spencer has been called to this work, and he can do as he pleases about it,’ and, of course, when the call came, I accepted it gladly, and I have received great blessings therefrom.

“A few days ago one of my well-to-do clients came to me and said, ‘Spencer, you’re going away from us?’

“‘Yes,’ I said.

“‘Well, this is going to ruin you financially,’ he continued. ‘You are just getting started well; your business is prospering. You are making a lot of money now and the future looks bright yet. I don’t know how you can do this. You don’t have to accept the call, do you?’

“And I said, ‘Brother, we do not have to accept any call, but if you understand the Mormon way of life, those of us who have been reared in the Church and understand the discipline of the Church, we just always do accept such calls.’ And I further said to him: ‘Do you remember what Luke said, “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15), and all the bonds, lands, houses, and livestock are just things that mean so little in a person’s abundant life.’” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1943, pp. 15–19.)

Below: Leaving for the Central States Mission, October 1915. Right: A young man of resolve, Spencer Kimball spent most of his early years in Thatcher, Arizona.