President Benson eulogized

A chapter in Church history - the 8 1/2-year administration of the 13th president of the Church - closed June 4 with the funeral of President Ezra Taft Benson.

As if in prologue to a life story marked by inspiration and spirituality, and love of God, family and country, four General Authorities delivered funeral messages in which President Benson was remembered as a farm boy who "increased in knowledge and stature" to become a spiritual giant and valiant citizen, and as one who bore equally well the titles "plowboy, patriot, patriarch and prophet."President Benson died May 30 at age 94 in his apartment in downtown Salt Lake City. (Please see Church News, June 4.)

Some 3,500 mourners attended the service in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, while thousands more watched proceedings carried by the Church satellite network to more than 3,000 meetinghouses in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, West Indies and Haiti. The funeral proceedings also were carried by satellite downlink to 88 locations in Europe. Five television stations in Utah also broadcast the funeral proceedings and coverage of the dedication of President Benson's grave in Whitney, Idaho. (See page 7 for a report on the graveside ceremony.) The funeral was also telecast by the Faith & Values Channel, an interfaith network.

With members of the Council of the Twelve serving as honorary pallbearers and grandsons as pallbearers, President Benson's casket, adorned with white roses and greenery, was placed in front of the podium area of the Tabernacle.

President Howard W. Hunter, president of the Council of the Twelve and senior apostle since 1988, presided over and addressed the funeral gathering.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, who had served as President Benson's first counselor, conducted the service and also spoke. Other speakers were President Thomas S. Monson, who was second counselor to President Benson, and Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve.

Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve gave the invocation, and Elder Richard G. Scott, also of the Twelve, offered the benediction.

Music for the service was provided by the Tabernacle Choir, with Jerold Ottley directing the choir and John Longhurst accompanying on the organ. The music was selected from among President Benson's favorite hymns of the Restoration and of the Savior: "An Angel from on High," "How Great Thou Art," and "O Divine Redeemer."

Pres. Hunter: `Mourn at silence'

Declaring that his heart was heavy "at the passing of our beloved prophet and president, Ezra Taft Benson," President Hunter said he felt the loss of President Benson "in a particularly personal way."

He said they had sat together in the Council of the Twelve Apostles for 35 years, 10 of which with President Benson presiding over the council. "He was a gifted leader, a superb administrator," President Hunter said. "We all felt the keenness of his mind and the power of his priesthood as he led us.

"I saw the mantle of prophetic leadership settle upon his shoulders. I felt his humility and his dependence on the Lord as he stepped into the sacred office he would now hold. I heard his voice rise to new levels of spiritual eloquence and divine utterance. Now that mighty voice is stilled, and we mourn with the entire Church at the silence."

He spoke of President Benson as an exemplary husband, father and grandfather. He reflected that President Benson often taught powerfully and repeatedly that all the teachings of the gospel should center in and around the family.

President Hunter spoke of the "story book romance" of President Benson and his wife, Flora (who died in August 1992), and their example of what a marriage should be.

President Hunter said that in the hours and days since President Benson's passing he had reflected on the many marvelous sermons President Benson had given and the direction he so clearly and forthrightly gave to the Church.

"He spoke to everyone and had concern for all," President Hunter said. "He spoke to the women of the Church, and to the men. He spoke to the elderly. He spoke to those who are single, to those in their youth, and he loved speaking to the children in the Church. He gave wonderful, personalized counsel to the entire membership, whatever their personal circumstances were. Those sermons will continue to sustain us and guide us as we reflect on them for many years to come.

"President Benson spoke lovingly and frequently of missionary work and temples and the responsibilities of the priesthood. He spoke of our pioneer heritage and the dangers of pride and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But most of all he spoke of his beloved Book of Mormon. . . .

"Perhaps no president of the Church since the Prophet Joseph Smith himself has done more to teach the truths of the Book of Mormon, to make it a daily course of study for the entire membership of the Church, and to `flood the earth' with its distribution."

He spoke of President Benson's call at the outset of his ministry as prophet, seer and revelator for members to re-enthrone the Book of Mormon in their hearts and minds.

President Hunter said the Book of Mormon itself provides perhaps the most fitting epitaph of all to President Benson's long and valiant life in the service of the Lord. "As was said of Captain Moroni, one of President Benson's favorite Book of Mormon figures, so say we of Ezra Taft Benson:

" `[He] was a strong and a mighty man . . . a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country. . . . A man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. . . . A man who was firm in the faith of Christ.' " (Alma 48:11-13.)

Pres. Hinckley: Love and service

President Hinckley spoke of the love in President Benson's life: love in his home as a boy and in his family as a husband and father, love that he gave and received as a Church leader and the love he held for God and country.

He spoke of President Benson as having been an overall-clad, sunburned farm boy who, at an early age, learned the law of the harvest: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (Gal. 6:7.)

After describing the incessant and constant labor required to plow and plant, harrow and harvest a farm in dry country, President Hinckley said: "Throughout the years of his mature life, when he walked with presidents and kings, he never lost the touch of his boyhood farm days. He never lost his capacity for work. He never lost the will to rise at dawn and work into the night."

President Hinckley spoke of the home in which President Benson grew up, noting it was there he learned how to pray and serve. He told how, as the eldest son, Ezra Taft Benson helped his mother, the ward Relief Society president, deliver food to the needy. President Hinckley related that after World War II, Elder Benson, then a member of the Council of the Twelve, was sent to Europe by the First Presidency to distribute food and commodities to the hungry and destitute.

"The hand that reached out to those impoverished people was the same hand which many years earlier had helped his mother in assisting the distressed of the little ward in which he grew up," President Hinckley said.

President Hinckley noted that the Wall Street Journal, in its May 31 edition, carried together announcement of the deaths of "Ezra Taft Benson, 94, president of the Mormon Church since 1985 . . .' and `Erich Honecker, 81, East German leader who built the Berlin Wall. . . .'

"I cannot imagine two men so different in the causes they espoused, in what they did for mankind, and in the philosophies by which they guided their lives," President Hinckley said.

"Although he became a citizen of the world, feeling a kinship with good people wherever he went, President Benson's love for America never dimmed. In the first world war he enlisted in the army, and subsequently was honorably discharged. His crowning patriotic service was his response to a call from the President of the United States to serve as Secretary of Agriculture. He served the entire eight years of President Eisnehower's presidency.

"He was constantly within the glare of the spotlight of public scrutiny. . . . His picture appeared on the covers of the leading national news magazines. Editorialists and commentators denounced him. But without fear or favor, without political or personal consideration, he spoke his mind and won the plaudits of millions across this nation. . . . In those difficult and strenuous times, again prayer was his refuge and his strength."

President Hinckley said with all President Benson did, with all honors accorded him at home and abroad, his greatest interest and truest love, beyond his own family, was the Church, its people, and its interests throughout the world.

"He treasured above all other calls and responsibilities the holy Apostleship, a call extended when he was 44 years of age by President Heber J. Grant. He knew the meaning of that call. He recognized the responsibilities inherent in it. With the energy of his boyhood farm experiences he labored at it."

He said service was of President Benson's nature, and that his service became a fulfillment of a declaration of the Savior: "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." (Matt. 10:39.)

He spoke of President Benson's teachings, particularly the emphasis he gave to the Book of Mormon. He said President Benson "blessed the people he loved. He honored the sacred office to which he had been called.

"As might well be expected, his body began to fail with age. He could not walk as he once walked. He could not speak as he once spoke. There was a gradual decline, but he was still the chosen prophet of the Lord for so long as he lived."

Pres. Monson: `Firm testimony'

President Monson said to fully appreciate the stature of Ezra Taft Benson, one must turn back the pages of his journal and visit the farm home where he grew up in Whitney, Idaho. He spoke of the love President Benson's parents, George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson, cultivated and nurtured in their home.

President Monson related the story of how President Benson, the eldest child, was left to run the family farm when his father was called on a mission. "This family learned faith, experienced sacrifice, developed strength and shared love," President Monson said. "Every son, each daughter, filled honorably a full-time mission. From such a setting came President Benson's reverence for his mother, adoration of his father and loyalty to his brothers and sisters. In that household, and in his own family, the Lord and His Church come first."

He spoke of the priority President and Sister Benson gave to their family and the Lord. "From the sparse years of graduate school to the heady atmosphere of Washington, their priorities remained unchanged," he said. "The entire Church found justifiable pride in the Edward R. Murrow telecast which featured the Ezra Taft Benson family at home. Mr. Murrow reported that his fan mail from this show exceeded all others. America was starved to see a righteous family learning and living as a family should."

President Monson traced President Benson's life from Idaho, where he served as a stake president and as a county agricultural agent, to Washington, D.C., where he again served as stake president and as Secretary of Agriculture. "President and Sister Benson blessed the lives of all with whom they mingled and won the lasting respect of all with whom they served," he said.

He mentioned the experience of attending President and Sister Benson's 62nd wedding anniversary, and seeing the love and loyalty displayed in the family.

"This love which the prophet had for his own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren extended to the children of the Church - even to the children of the world," President Monson said. "He respected them. He loved them. And they respected and loved him. When they visited they brightened his day; they lighted up his life."

He said President Benson had long been a champion and advocate for the youth of the Church.

President Benson had a long-standing commitment to Scouting, and no person, President Monson said, better exemplified adherence to the Scout oath. He said President Benson received every recognition of Scouting leadership: The Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, the Silver Buffalo, and the Bronze Wolf.

President Monson spoke of President Benson's call to leave his home and family to fill a special mission to Europe after World War II. "The magnitude of his call was overwhelming," President Monson said. "For 10 1/2 months President Benson labored night and day without respite, blessing the members of the Church in Europe, giving them nourishment for their bodies and everlasting hope for their souls. From the chaos of war came Saints - scattered, battered and in need. To them came Ezra Taft Benson, with his superb organizational skills and with the inspiration of Almighty God.

"Through the inspired Welfare Program of the Church, hundreds of tons of lifesaving food and clothing were transported across the vast Atlantic Ocean and, under the direction of this gifted leader, distributed to the hungry, the cold, the homeless."

President Monson said people still step forward to bless the name of Ezra Taft Benson. He said when he dedicated a new meetinghouse in Zwickau, Germany, a devoted man asked that he give his greetings to President Benson. The man told President Monson: "He saved my life. He gave me food to eat and clothing to wear. He gave me hope. God bless him!"

President Monson said one of the most personally satisfying and spiritually rewarding experiences of his life has been to serve as one of President Benson's counselors in the First Presidency. "No one could possibly have had a better role model to follow. His life has been rich, his love far-reaching, his testimony of the truth ever firm."

Elder Packer: Focus of service

Elder Packer, after speaking of President Benson's years in government service when he met with the great leaders of the world, said: "Whether entertained in an ordinary hotel or the lavish palace of the Peacock Throne, he would say, `This is too good for a farm boy from Idaho.'

"But you cannot find Ezra Taft Benson in those years of government service. He must be measured by the teaching of the book that dominated his thoughts, controlled his conduct, and inspired his very soul: the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In the pages of the Book of Mormon, President Benson found the focus of his service."

Elder Packer quoted from Jacob 2 and 4, in which Jacob stated he was commanded to write things he considered to be most precious and to engrave "preaching which was sacred . . . ." Elder Packer quoted 1 Ne. 6:5, in which Nephi stated that he wrote "the things which are pleasing unto God," and not "the things that were pleasing unto the world."

"Brother Benson had that kind of honesty that made people shake their heads and that kind of courage which made him essentially immune to criticism and opposition."

He said President Benson learned about opposition as a young missionary in England. "He always kept this verse from the Book of Mormon in his wallet: `No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.' " (3 Ne. 22:17.)

Elder Packer quoted another statement President Benson kept nearby: "Be right and then be easy to live with, if possible, but in that order."

He said President Benson was like the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah who, while building the wall at Jerusalem, was ridiculed by his enemies. Upon being invited by the enemy to meet on the plain of Ono, Nehemiah replied, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?" (Neh. 6:2-3.)

"President Benson had a great work to do, a great ministry to perform," Elder Packer said. "He reminded us always that `the gospel can only prosper in an atmosphere of freedom.'

He said President Benson had "unlimited faith in people," for he had read in Mosiah 29:26: " . . . this shall ye observe and make it your law - to do your business by the voice of the people."

"And, as a prophet he warned us of the verse that followed: `And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then . . .

GodT will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.' "

Elder Packer continued: "How many times have we heard him measure decisions asking: What's best for the kingdom?' How many times has he told us:It's the Spirit that counts.' "

Elder Packer spoke of President Benson's love of good music and said he taught that hymns were the language of the Spirit.

After quoting the lyrics of a hymn, "Does the Journey Seem Long," Elder Packer said of President Benson: "This dear, venerable prophet has now entered in to rejoice with his beloved Flora and other family there to convene with Joseph and Brigham and John and Wilford and the others.

"The prophets who preceded him, ancient and modern, have on occasion communed with servants of the Lord on earth. So it well may be that we have not seen the last of this great prophet of God."

Upon learning of President Benson's death, many international, national and local government and religious leaders sent their messages of condolence, including former President George Bush and former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. (Several others who sent messages were mentioned in the Church News June 4.)

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