Remembered for his love for the Book of Mormon, his assignment as the 15th United States Secretary of Agriculture and his service as a General Authority and prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson was born on this day 119 years ago.
Born on August 4, 1899, to George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson, in Whitney, Idaho, Ezra Taft Benson was the oldest of 11 children and the great-grandson of Ezra T. Benson, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve in the 1840s.
His call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came after he had traveled to Salt Lake City in 1943 to ask Church leaders advice about his employment. It was during that visit that they told him he would be joining the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
He and Spencer W. Kimball were sustained on the same day — Oct. 7, 1943 — filling two vacancies in the Twelve caused by the deaths of two apostles earlier that year. Because President Spencer W. Kimball was ordained first, he was the senior member in the quorum — a divine order that would determine service as the prophet years later.
President Benson was sustained as prophet after Spencer W. Kimball, the Church’s 12th prophet, who died in 1985. He served as the 13th president of the Church for nine years from 1985 to 1994.
President Benson was also involved in politics. He served as Secretary of Agriculture for the United States when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office. That assignment came in January 1953 — more than nine years after his call to be an apostle. With the permission and encouragement of then-Church President David O. McKay, he served as both an apostle and in the United States Cabinet. He served as Secretary of Agriculture until 1961.
President Benson became president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1973, and served in that calling until 1985. Upon his ordination as prophet, he called his two counselors, President Gordon B. Hinckley, who had been serving in the First Presidency, and Elder Thomas S. Monson. Both would later serve as president of the Church.
Among his teachings, President Benson is remembered for his challenge to Church members to “flood the earth with the Book of Mormon.”
“I would like to discuss one of the most significant gifts given to the world in modern times,” President Benson taught. “The gift I am thinking of is more important than any of the inventions and technological revolutions. This is a gift of greater value to mankind than even the many wonderful advances we have seen in modern medicine. It is of greater worth to mankind than the development of flight or space travel. I speak of the gift of the Book of Mormon” (From the book, “A Witness and a Warning,” pg. 15-22).
Expounding upon a term Joseph Smith used in the introduction of the Book of Mormon, President Benson taught that the Book of Mormon is the “keystone of our religion” with three specific points:
• “It is the keystone in our witness of Christ.”
• “It is the keystone of our doctrine.”
• “It is the keystone of testimony.”
Among his teachings was a promise to Church members of a power that comes from reading the Book of Mormon: “It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too.
"But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the straight and narrow path. The scriptures are called 'the words of life' (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.
“I implore you with all my heart that you consider with great solemnity the importance of the Book of Mormon to you personally and to the Church collectively.”
President Benson died on May 30, 1994, at the age of 94.
Correction: In a previous version of this article the years of President Benson's service as Secretary of Agriculture were incorrect. He served in that position from 1953 to 1961.