Presidents of the Church: Inspirational Excerpts from The Journal of President Spencer W. Kimball

Compiled by Dennis B. Horne

Editorial note: the below excerpts from President Kimball’s journal were selected because I find them to be extra uplifting and edifying, or otherwise special in some way. I did not include a date with them because when I encountered and chose them I was interested in precious spiritual experience and insight, not scholarship.

Some of these items can be found by using the index and links previously posted as “Precious highlights in President Spencer W. Kimball’s Journal.” Below is what I judge to be some of the cream of the cream in his diary. These tidbits make my soul sing and reinforce within me how grateful I am to be a member of the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. This apostle and prophet became celestial material indeed. I include a little introduction of a few words to each excerpt to give some context.

This is the second of a multi-part series highlighting the journals of Spencer W. Kimball.


On David O. McKay

Elder Kimball sees mantle come on Pres. McKay:

“I had an unusual experience, my first of its kind. As President David O. McKay began his introduction statements concerning the status of the Church and the need for reorganization of the Presidency, a strange feeling came over me. He appeared in his majesty and power. I saw him as the President of the Church. Of course I had known he would be, but this moment without my having given thought to this, a very pronounced feeling came to me of the MANTLE. For me the mantle fell upon him that moment. There was no doubt in my mind. It was a soul satisfying feeling. It was hardly a light—it was more like a sudden flood of warmth and into my mind came the thought: ‘THE PROPHET’S MANTLE’. I was grateful for it for two reasons: if there could have come any doubt that doubt was thus dispelled—and it gave me the feeling that perhaps the Lord might be pleased to a small extent with my work, attitudes and myself to be so kind to me. This has given me a deep sense of gratitude and exultation. Oh! How I love the Lord, and His Church, and His work. Oh! HOW GRATEFUL I AM FOR HIS GOODNESS TO ME. If I can only endure unto the end in total faithfulness!!!”



“The tabernacle was filled quite to capacity. There was much eagerness and some speculation on the part of the people as to who might be called. . . . President McKay gave the first talk which was excellent and then President Brown presented the General Authorities and Auxiliary Authorities for sustaining vote. He was sustained as First Counselor, Brother Nathan Eldon Tanner as Second Counselor and Thomas Monson as the twelfth member of the Council of the Twelve. I have been with Brother Monson, visited with him in the mission field in Toronto and have had a high regard and affection for him the many years. He was one of the two whom I had recommended to the President as a member of the Council of the Twelve. I was very pleased that I seemed to be in line with the President’s thinking and the Lord’s thinking.”


More on Pres. McKay:

“Today, is President McKay’s 90th birthday. He has been celebrating it for about a week.. Many people and organizations have been feting him and paying tribute to him. What a great man he is. What an inspired man he is.”


Pres. McKay to Twelve:

“The Christian sects are, shall I say, disintegrating. That is a little strong, but they sense their inadequacy to represent our Lord and Savior. In fact, they are not recognizing Him as the Savior of the world,…”


Pres. McKay blesses Elder Kimball:

“President McKay gave Camilla and myself blessings. He blessed her that she would not need to worry about our loved ones. They would be protected while we were in the work of the Lord, … In my blessing he blessed me that I might set in order the missions of Europe—the districts and branches. Three times he blessed me to have discernment, protection in trains, ships, and in the air, to go and come safely. I felt much more at ease and at peace when the blessing was given. President McKay sat on the corner of the table and reminisced remembering my father, his visit in our home, . . . It was good to get that close to President McKay.”


Pres. McKay to the Twelve:

“The Savior is at the head of it [the work] and I think he has been with us as we have deliberated and presented to him the problems that we are facing and the need of his continual guidance.”


Elder Kimball’s feelings about Pres. McKay:

“The Prophet is so wonderful, his eyes light up and when he smiles, it fills your heart with gladness. He has such a great grasp of all of the many problems in the Church and is so kindly and so inspired. It was good to be with him.”


Elder Kimball on his service on a committee and on Pres. McKay:

“I have just been released by the First Presidency as the Chairman of the Committee on Publications and the Reading Committee of which I have served for several years. They indicated this release was because of being over tied with numerous other responsibilities, and especially in light of the fact that I have just recently been appointed as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Missionary work. . . . It has been a most strenuous and difficult assignment and though I have appreciated the privilege of serving in it, I am grateful now to be in the missionary work and leave this to Brother Lee who has been appointed to take [my] place. I see this as quite an inspired change since the missionary work is my loved field and since Brother Lee is the Chairman of the Great Correlation Committee and, therefore, through his sub-committees he can have all of this work done by the specialists in those special fields of adult and youth and children work.

“President McKay has begun to come back to the first part of the Temple meeting and we are deeply grateful that he is well enough to do this. He has lost some vigor since the last conference and it is noticeable that this slight stroke which he had in October has given him further limitations but he is still genial and happy and wonderful and alert mentally and he makes a great contribution to our meeting and gives it great stature and dignity.”


More on Pres. McKay:

“The President was in good form in spite of his near-ninety years. His legs are shuffling a little and sometimes his words come with a little difficulty but in general, he does remarkably well and he is extremely alert mentally. He is a marvelous individual and has the traits and qualities of the Master in a large degree.”


And more:

“It was so good to be with the Brethren in the temple and to have all the Presidency present. Pres. McKay still steers the ship with firm hands. He is 85. He is still the leader, kind, understanding, sweet, much loved. He is getting old. It is evident. Not quite so quick, not so steady but increasingly loveable. . . . The 9 am meeting was our semi-annual meeting. All dressed for the prayer. We were fasting and had the Sacrament and testimonies were had from the Patriarch, one of the Bishopric, one of the Seventies, one of the Assistants, one of the Twelve and all of the Presidency. It was a glorious occasion and should assist us spiritually in preparation for the Conference.”


Pres. McKay to the Twelve:

“President McKay said he felt impressed to say a word to the Brethren in appreciation of their labors, speaking for the First Presidency. He addressed the Brethren as follows:

“I think that the Quorum of the Twelve is setting an example to all the Church in efficiency and devotion and unity, spreading the gospel as the Council of the Twelve should. Personally, I wish to express appreciation and gratitude for your efforts, your interest, your capabilities, controlling the Church and putting it in order, and setting in proper order the branches, stakes, wards and missions of the Church; with all my heart I say, ‘God bless you.’ Never before, so far as I know, have we had a Quorum of Twelve Apostles and General Authorities of the Church who were more devoted in doing their work, and who were performing it more efficiently than the General Authorities of the Church at the present time. I want you to know that that is the feeling of the First Presidency towards this group especially, and your associates.”


Pres. McKay to Elder Kimball:

“As President McKay passed me going out of the Tabernacle, at noon, I shook hands with him and said ‘You were wonderful, Pres. McKay’ to which he said ‘YOU were wonderful and always are.’ This of course pleased my vanity, thrilled me beyond expression since Pres. McKay does not often so speak and is never effusive.”


Pres. McKay again:

“This morning, I had a rare privilege. I called on President McKay . . . and he was ready and very gracious. His smile is captivating. He makes one feel that his greatest pleasure is to meet one, and that each one is very special. . . .

“And when I shook hands goodbye, he drew me to him and embraced me and said, ‘You go with my blessing.’ This was a glorious experience—to be in his presence; to have his undivided attention; to have him consider with me our program for the Indian.”


Pres. McKay to Elder Kimball regarding throat cancer:

“Today . . . I had a visit with Pres. McKay who said he had prayed about my problem and believed that the advice he was going to give was right. He felt I should take advantage of all the skill that was obtainable, saying that the Lord expects us to do all we can in our problems. He seemed to feel that a laryngectomy would not be necessary, at least he so hoped, but even if it came to that he impressed me with the thought that I could still make a life and service with writing or other means. . . .

“In the visit with Pres. McKay Wednesday he indicated he had wondered why I had gone ahead with a serious operation without consulting the brethren but my letter cleared it [up]. Thursday at the conclusion of our visit he said, ‘We are closer today than we have ever been before.’”


Pres. McKay to Elder Kimball gathered with First Presidency and Twelve:

“Pres. McKay expressed the gratitude of the brethren to have Brother Kimball with them this morning, and to hear him, and to share his thanksgiving that the Lord has heard our prayers, for, said Pres. McKay ‘There is no doubt in our minds that He has blessed you, beyond even the doctors’ fondest expectations. The Lord be praised.’

“For the time being, President McKay said he thought Brother Kimball should follow the doctor’s advice especially until he is entirely healed. President McKay said: ‘It is glorious to hear your voice—just glorious! Here in this upper room [of the temple] we express not only vocally as we did this morning, but in our hearts, thanksgiving for the blessings of the Lord.’


The Prophet:

“President David O. McKay came to our meeting this morning for two and one half hours; he seemed a little weaker physically than usual but very alert mentally. Some decisions he made this morning certainly were inspiration and revelation. We all felt it. I have great confidence in his spiritual vision.”


Former deceased brethren:

“President McKay became somewhat emotional as he expressed his affection for the brethren, and his appreciation for their unanimity and faithfulness and brotherly love. . . .and he shed a few tears as we sang and as he spoke to us of his affection for us, his brethren. He indicated two or three times that he felt that the other brethren with whom we had served through the years were very near and watching us in our work.”


And more from the prophet:

“We have never been nearer to our Lord than we are this morning. I think the brotherhood of this group has never been dearer than it is this morning. I love you. I am sure the Lord is with us and will always be with us. This groups of men are more precious than any other group of men that has ever occupied the Twelve.”


And more:

The President was there and expressed his love for the brethren and said, among other things, ‘You don’t know how noble you are and how grateful I am to be with you.’”


Pres. McKay’s health decline:

“At 10:00 three of the Presidency came in—President McKay on the arm of his Councilor with his cane and looking very weak. He greeted us all and then sat down. . . . He excused himself and left the meeting. He left us with a [feeling] of sorrow and apprehension. He is getting so weak, and he is passing most of his work to his Counselors and they are really doing an excellent job handling the numerous details and my admiration increases for President Brown and President Tanner.”



Joseph Fielding Smith

Pers. Smith to Elder Kimball:

“Today President Joseph Fielding Smith came down the hall and put his arm around me and said ‘I think a lot of you—I love you Brother Kimball.’ These were precious words—priceless. To have the approval and appreciation of a man of his stature and goodness!!! Brother Lee invited me to his home for dinner and as we rode along, he said he was hungry to visit with me and as he got older he felt to lean on his brethren more and more. I was so grateful for his appreciative expressions. I told him he was fast approaching the place of first seniority in the Twelve. He would surely be the President and that I would sustain him with all my heart. There are great compensations to me for these occasional expressions of the thanks and appreciation.”


Elder Kimball on a talk by Pres. Smith:

“We attended the sunset services of the Bonneville Stake MIA and Elder Joseph Fielding Smith spoke strongly on the Last Days and the living of the commandments. It was a real masterpiece. I wanted to get up and remind those thousand or more people that they had this day heard a prophet of God who spoke inspired words to them.”


Pres. Smith’s teachings to Twelve:

“We went into the quarterly meeting [of the Twelve]. . . . The testimonies were delightful and the explanations and dissertation upon gospel topics by President Smith were most excellent.”


Special Witnesses:

“Our quarterly meeting was about the most impressive yet. President Smith spoke for a half an hour or more on the Gospel, particularly upon our being special witnesses and the meaning thereof. Brother Lee followed with somewhat the same trend, and each of the Brethren spoke feelingly and with great spirit, and I came away from the meeting determined more than ever to perfect my life and to be more worthy of the great blessings that were mine.”


Pres. Smith to Elder Kimball:

“As I left he embraced me in his arms and said ‘I want you to know that I love you.’ I was happy to have the affection of so great a man.”


Pres. Smith letter to Elder Kimball regarding throat (vocal cord cancer) surgery:

“More than anything else it is my humble prayer that the operation has been successful and that you will be permanently healed.

“Jessie and I have been praying for you daily and we hope for a complete recovery. We know that it is within the power of the Lord to accomplish this result and I hope that the faith of your brethren and the members of the Church will be strong enough to appeal to the Lord to bring about this result. We know that he has the power to do this and if he is willing it can be done. The past few days I have taken time out. . . . While up there I read through the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and some other parts of the scriptures. I marvel at the great power of our Lord, and what he did for people in distress. There is no doubt in my mind in relation to all that he performed, and I know that the same power is here, but our faith does not always rise to such heights. We, of course, do not know the mind of the Lord in all things, but I am sure that he has the power to answer our prayers, and so we are praying.”


Pres. Smith to the Twelve regarding Elder Kimball:

“President Jospeh Fielding Smith reported that yesterday, Wednesday Aug. 21 the Twelve met in their quarterly meeting in the Temple. The Brethren came fasting in the interest of the restoration of Brother Kimball’s health [throat/voice]. A very fine time was had by those present.” . . . “That same day a telegram was sent to Elder Kimball, assuring him of our faith and prayers for God’s overruling power in his behalf.”



Harold B. Lee

Elder Kimball on Elder Harold B. Lee:

“Elder Lee and I caught the Los Angeles Limited at six o’clock for Los Angeles. We had a delightful visit on our way down and I appreciated very much discussing the Gospel with him and getting his reaction to problems which have come to me recently from many people. Elder Lee is very wise, sagacious for his experience and age, and the Lord has made of him a great character.”


Elder Lee’s impression:

“Yesterday, in our meeting, Brother Lee whispered to me again as he had done last Sunday on the stand at the Conference that he had the rather strong feeling that some unusual change was coming immediately, rather soon to President McKay. He did not seem to have an impression whether it was President McKay or whether it was his wife but he felt it rather strongly.”


Elder Lee on Elder Kimball:

“I was highly elated when Brother Lee spoke in high terms of the work that I had been doing. He indicated that as late as Thursday, the President of the Church had complimented me on the work that we had done for the Indians. And, Brother Lee said that perhaps I would go down [in church history] as the great Indian defender. He was very complimentary—I was embarrassed but appreciated it since I did not know that he had felt that way.”


Pres. Lee prophecy regarding N. Elden Tanner [1960]:

“Elder Lee then whispered to me: ‘I have had the feeling this morning that he will one day be one of us.’ [a member of the Twelve] Brother Lee indicated that Brother Tanner needed a little further humbling in the matter of faith, but that he would someday be a great man.”


The President choosing counselors and a new apostle:

All of the Twelve were present and it seemed good to have all Twelve of us. It has been many months. . . . We were all excitedly waiting for the announcement of the President. Last week, he had us all send in confidentially two names. He indicated that he might choose one of the Twelve for his Counselor and that our recommendations might be to fill the Council of the Twelve and maybe the Assistant. . . . Then the President announced to us his choice. I had whispered to Brother Lee, who is my immediate senior and with whom I have worked now for twenty years side by side, that I hoped that he might be called into the [First] Presidency. But, my human calculations were apparently not quite correct and I realize that man proposes and God disposes. President McKay then announced that he had chosen Brother Hugh B. Brown to be his First Counselor and Brother Nathan Eldon Tanner to be his Second Counselor. This was not wholly a surprise. I suppose my eagerness to see that Brother Lee received the training which he will need as he becomes the President of the Church, which is almost certain, and I felt that experience would be good for him but apparently if he becomes the President he will receive his training from the Lord. I feel good about it and feel certain the Lord knows what He is doing and that the President who had spent some time in the Holy of Holies yesterday on his knees in communion with the Lord, received the right inspiration.


Pres. Lee advice to Pres. Kimball:

“I was close to Brother Lee as we moved up in the seniority of the Council. One day I said to Bro. Lee: I wish I could speak as Bro. Bowen speaks with such power. And at another time I expressed the wish that I could speak with such eloquence as Brother Stephen L Richards. Pres. Lee looked at me with a little disappointment, I thought, and said, ‘Spencer, be yourself—use the talents the Lord has given to you.’ I have never forgotten that.”


Blesses Pres. Lee:

“It was my unbelievable opportunity to be mouth as the 13 Apostles laid their hands upon the head of Elder Harold B. Lee to authorize him to use all the keys of the Kingdom and to give leadership to the Church as its President, Seer, and Revelator and Prophet. I was very much frightened. I hope that what I said was the right thing to be said.”


On Pres. Lee’s passing:

“When I went home . . . I felt like the world had fallen in on my shoulders. I knew what was coming, that I was now no. 1 Apostle on the earth. I knew the program of succession; I knew now in a small measure what the responsibilities would be.” (Dec. 30, 1973)


Further Reading:

What Did Spencer W. Kimball Write About in His Journal? (From the Desk)

A Prophet’s Journey: The Journals of Spencer W. Kimball (BYU Studies Quarterly)