“The Divinity of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Dec. 2003, 6–11
Orson F. Whitney was born on 1 July 1855 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was ordained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 9 April 1906 by President Joseph F. Smith. Elder Whitney died on 16 May 1931 in Salt Lake City at age 75. This is an excerpt from an address delivered at the Sunday evening session of the MIA Jubilee Conference held on 7 June 1925.
At a time when the divine character and mission of the world’s Redeemer are being questioned, even by many professing Christians, it is a cause for congratulation and rejoicing that there is still found “faith on the earth” [Luke 18:8]—faith in Jesus Christ as the very Son of God, as the virgin-born Savior of mankind, as the anointed and foreordained messenger of Him who “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Among those who hold fast to this conviction are the Latter-day Saints. … And tonight we unfurl our banner, emblazoned with the slogan of the young men and young women of Zion: “We stand for an individual testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ.”
Such testimony can come but in one way—God’s way, not man’s. Books cannot give it. Schools cannot bestow it. No human power can impart it. It comes, if it comes at all, as a gift of God, by direct and immediate revelation from on high.
Said Jesus to His chief Apostle: “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then said Jesus: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:15–17).
Such was the basis of Peter’s testimony, and such is the basis of every real testimony of like character. They all rest upon the same foundation.
Testimony means evidence, and it may consist of divers things, fruits of the gospel’s varied gifts. Dreams, visions, prophecies, tongues and their interpretation, healings, and other manifestations of the divine Spirit are all included in the category.
But the greatest and most convincing of all testimonies is the soul’s illumination under the kindling and enlightening power of the Holy Ghost—the Comforter, promised by the Savior to His disciples, to abide with them after He had departed, to bring things past to their remembrance and show them things to come, making manifest the things of God, past, present, and future.
By that Spirit and by that alone can men know God and Jesus Christ, whom He hath sent—to know [Them], and to act consistently with that knowledge, is to lay hold upon eternal life. No greater thing can come to men while in the flesh than the knowledge of how to secure that greatest of all heavenly gifts.
To know God, man must know himself, must know whence he came, why he is here, what is expected of him by the One who sent him here, where he is going when he leaves this mortal life, and what awaits him in the great hereafter. The Holy Spirit is the fountain from which flows this knowledge, the most precious that men can possess. By means of it comes the testimony that Jesus Christ was and is divine. …
“I know that my redeemer liveth” [Job 19:25]—the burden of righteous Job’s exultant cry, welling up from the depths of his sorely tried, suffering, yet patient soul—is echoed from 10,000 hearts, yea, 10,000 times 10,000 of the faithful and the just, whose heaven-inspired testimonies have come ringing down the ages, from the days of Adam to the days of Joseph Smith. The holy scriptures are replete with testimonies of Christ’s divinity, attested by miracles and wonders manifold.
But even if Christ had wrought no miracle—even if He had not walked upon the water, healed the sick, cast out devils, given sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, or done anything else that men deem supernatural, was there not that about Him which bore unimpeachable testimony to His divinity?
What could be more divine than the life of One who “went about doing good” [Acts 10:38], teaching men to forgive their enemies, to pray for those who persecuted them, and to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them? And did He not set the example of godlike magnanimity by craving, while upon the cross in the agonies of death, heaven’s pardon upon His guilty murderers? “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34].
What could be more divine than that? Who but a God could offer such a prayer at such a time? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” [John 15:13]. But here was One who could lay down His life for His enemies, as well as His friends. No mere man could do that. It took a God to die for all men—foes as well as friends—and that act alone stamps divinity upon the character and mission of Jesus Christ.
The Twelve Apostles were His special witnesses. As such they had to know beyond all question that He was what He claimed to be. It was a new thing that was required of them. They were to vouch for His Resurrection—and there had been no resurrection upon this planet until Christ came forth from the grave. He was “the firstfruits of them that slept” [1 Cor. 15:20]. Those Apostles had to know, not merely believe. They could not go into the world and say: “We believe Jesus has risen from the dead—such is our opinion, our conviction.” What impression would that have made upon a sin-hardened generation? No; mere belief would not suffice in their case. They must know, and they did know, for they had seen and heard Him, had even been permitted to touch Him, that they might be convinced that He was indeed the resurrection and the life. It was their right to possess this knowledge, owing to the unique character of their mission. But the world at large was required to believe what the Apostles testified concerning Him. …
Sign-seeking is an abomination, indicating an adulterous disposition. It is blessed to believe without seeing, since by the exercise of faith comes spiritual development, one of the great objects of man’s earthly existence; while knowledge, by swallowing up faith, prevents its exercise, thus hindering that development. “Knowledge is power”; and all things are to be known in due season. But premature knowledge—knowing at the wrong time—is fatal both to progress and to happiness.
The case of the Apostles was exceptional. They stood in a peculiar position. It was better for them to know—nay, absolutely essential—in order to give the requisite force and power to their tremendous testimony.
And yet, even in their case, something more than the seeing of the eye, than the hearing of the ear, than the touch of the senses, was necessary to enable them to know and to testify of Christ’s divinity. Peter knew, before the Resurrection, that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God—knew it by divine revelation; and his brethren of the Twelve were entitled to the same knowledge, by the same means of imparting it.
That something besides His appearing to them in a resurrected state was necessary to qualify them for their work is shown by the fact that after that appearing, and after He had commissioned them to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” [Mark 16:15], they were commanded by Him to tarry at Jerusalem until they were “endued with power from on high” [Luke 24:49]. They obeyed, and the power came upon them—“a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind. … Cloven tongues like as of fire … sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2–4).
That same power the Apostles gave to others, even to all who had faith in Jesus Christ, who had repented of their sins, and had been cleansed by baptism at the hands of those having divine authority to so officiate; to the end that they might receive the Holy Ghost and by continued obedience win life everlasting.
So much for the days of old. Now as to modern times. Joseph Smith, to whom the Father and the Son revealed Themselves in the early decades of the 19th century, and through whom the everlasting gospel, with all its ancient gifts and blessings, was restored at the opening of this last and greatest of the gospel dispensations; Joseph Smith, who with Sidney Rigdon saw the Son of God sitting on the right hand of God and gazed upon the glories of eternity; Joseph Smith, who with Oliver Cowdery beheld Jehovah, even Jesus Christ, standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit in the Kirtland Temple; Joseph, the martyred prophet, who gave his life to lay the foundations of this work—he left upon record more than one mighty testimony to the divinity of Jesus Christ. And tens of thousands of faithful Saints have rejoiced and are rejoicing in those testimonies, confirmed to them by the all-convincing power of the Holy Ghost.
May I add my mite to the mass of evidence upon this all-important theme? Fifty years ago, or something less, I was a young missionary in the state of Pennsylvania. I had been praying for a testimony of the truth but beyond that had not displayed much zeal in missionary labor. My companion, a veteran in the cause, chided me for my lack of diligence in this direction. “You ought to be studying the books of the Church,” said he; “you were sent out to preach the gospel, not to write for the newspapers”—for that was what I was doing at the time.
I knew he was right, but I still kept on, fascinated by the discovery that I could wield a pen and preferring that to any other occupation except the [theater], my early ambition, which I had laid upon the altar when, as a youth of 21, I accepted a call to the mission field.
One night I dreamed—if dream it may be called—that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as I see this congregation. I stood behind a tree in the foreground, where I could see without being seen. Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, He passed over to the other side, where He also knelt and prayed. It was the same prayer with which we are all familiar: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” ([see] Matthew 26:36–44; Mark 14:32–41; Luke 22:42).
As He prayed the tears streamed down His face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I wept also, out of pure sympathy with His great sorrow. My whole heart went out to Him. I loved Him with all my soul and longed to be with Him as I longed for nothing else.
Presently He arose and walked to where the Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! He shook them gently, awoke them, and in a tone of tender reproach, untinctured by the least suggestion of anger or scolding, asked them if they could not watch with Him one hour. There He was, with the weight of the world’s sin upon His shoulders, with the pangs of every man, woman, and child shooting through His sensitive soul—and they could not watch with Him one poor hour!
Returning to His place, He prayed again and then went back and found them again sleeping. Again He awoke them, admonished them, and returned and prayed as before. Three times this happened, until I was perfectly familiar with His appearance—face, form, and movements. He was of noble stature and of majestic mien—not at all the weak, effeminate being that some painters have portrayed—a very God among men, yet as meek and lowly as a little child.
All at once the circumstance seemed to change, the scene remaining just the same. Instead of before, it was after the Crucifixion, and the Savior, with those three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran out from behind the tree, fell at His feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged Him to take me with Him.
I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped and raised me up and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real, that I felt the very warmth of His bosom against which I rested. Then He said: “No, my son; these have finished their work, and they may go with me, but you must stay and finish yours.” Still I clung to Him. Gazing up into His face—for He was taller than I—I besought Him most earnestly: “Well, promise me that I will come to You at the last.” He smiled sweetly and tenderly and replied: “That will depend entirely upon yourself.” I awoke with a sob in my throat, and it was morning.
“That’s from God,” said my companion (Elder A. M. Musser), when I had related it to him. “I don’t need to be told that,” was my reply. I saw the moral clearly. I had never thought that I would be an Apostle or hold any other office in the Church; and it did not occur to me even then. Yet I knew that those sleeping Apostles meant me. I was asleep at my post—as any man is, or any woman, who, having been divinely appointed to do one thing, does another.
But from that hour all was changed—I was a different man. I did not give up writing, for President Brigham Young [1801–77], having noticed some of my contributions in the home papers, wrote advising me to cultivate what he called my “gift for writing” so that I might use it in future years “for the establishment of truth and righteousness upon the earth.” This was his last word of counsel to me. He died the same year, while I was still in the mission field, though laboring then in the state of Ohio. I continued to write, but it was for the Church and kingdom of God. I held that first and foremost; all else was secondary.
Then came the divine illumination, which is greater than all dreams, visions, and other manifestations combined. By the light of God’s candle—the gift of the Holy Ghost—I saw what till then I had never seen, I learned what till then I had never known, I loved the Lord as I had never loved Him before. My soul was satisfied, my joy was full, for I had a testimony of the truth, and it has remained with me to this day.
I know that my Redeemer liveth. Not even Job knew it better. I have evidence that I cannot doubt; and this is why I am found among those who tonight unfurl the slogan for which we stand, possessing and proclaiming an individual testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ.