Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Witness More Powerful Than Sight


Jesus Christ by Chambers

Yesterday as I was researching something else, I stumbled onto a site I hadn't anticipated. There was a painting by an artist named Chambers that I recognized from many years ago. The first time I saw it was when I was in the office of President Harold B. Lee in the Church Office Building. That same print now hangs in my father's office at his home (the former home of President Lee). Several years ago I did some research and found a larger print in a Catholic bookstore and had it framed.

The rest of the story is there is an account President Lee preserved and glued to the back of the painting that may help clear up the speculations I saw on the site to which I made reference above. This is what President Lee attached to the back of the painting by Chambers:

"I have something that to me is a very personal and sacred experience. The late Samuel O. Bennion, who presided for many years down in the Central States Mission, and later became a member of the First Council of Seventy, came into my office one day and he showed me a picture of an artist's conception of the Savior, and he said, 'How do you like this representation of the Master?' Now, as we know, there was no photograph. Some folks dress up foolishly and think they are trying to make themselves look like the Savior today, and it is a rather ridiculous spectacle and I am sure the Lord would not be proud to be so represented. I said to him, 'I think that is marvelous,' because here was a face of strength. I have seen the pictures of Hoffman and sometimes He is almost pictured as an effeminate weak person and I never liked that portrayal, but here was one - He had eyes that were piercing, He had the kind of a look that could be stern, and yet I could see him tender towards a little child, taking the little child in His arms, and I said, 'that is the most wonderful representation I have ever seen. That is the way I picture the Savior in my mind.' And he said, 'I will get you one of those pictures.' And he said, 'I will tell you why that means so much to me. While I was presiding over the mission, the late Elder Orson F. Whitney, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and a close friend and an associate of President David O. McKay, was about that same stature, tall, handsome (some of you older folks will remember) and he said, as we toured the mission, Elder Whitney told me about a personal visitation he had had from his Lord, and he said, contrary to many people's description, the Savior was a large man, as tall or larger than I in stature, and he described him so accurately that it was fixed in my mind, and when I came back to conference I stopped in Chicago and went to the art gallery and there I asked to see all the artist's conceptions of how the Savior looked from what descriptions they had, and I came across this one by an artist by the name of Chambers, this came the nearest to the description of Orson F. Whitney.'

"After several weeks there came this picture and that night Samuel O. Bennion passed away, and I suppose I still owe him for that picture that I have hanging on the wall just back of me. As I walk from one side of the room to the other, (you have seen great paintings do this), His eyes seem to follow. If I go to the right or to the left, He's there. It's as though I am feeling what I know is the truth, that we who occupy places of responsibility are under the constant surveillance of the Lord who is the head of this Church. President Joseph Fielding Smith isn't the head of this Church, the head of this Church is our Lord and Master, over the Church which bears His name. President Joesph Fielding Smith is the presiding authority, the earthly representative here upon the earth, but his is the Lord's Church and that is why it is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in these latter days, and that is why we call it by that name." (President Harold B. Lee, during his tenure as the 1st Counselor in the First Presidency).

Jesus the Christ, by Del Parson
So that's the story about Harold B. Lee's association with this picture. Eventually, Del Parson would come along and produce a similar painting of Christ in a red robe, that is more commonly associated with the Church today. There are perhaps thousands of artists' representations of what Christ might look like, and many recent artists have contributed much to the body of work, Liz Lemon Swindle and Simon Dewey to name two.

Frequently, members of the Church speculate (there is no other word for it) on who among the General Authorities may have seen the Savior while they were living in mortality. It's nothing more than a parlor game, really, since those who may have had that experience will rarely disclose it, and those who haven't are prone to speculate. My experience with President Lee and others leads me to offer this counsel: Take their public statements and read them for the light and truth you may glean from them and go no further.

Clyde Williams did a masterful job of compiling the Teachings of Harold B. Lee several years ago. From that inspiring collection I have drawn a sampling of those expressions of testimony from President Lee. Please note how many times President Lee uses the expression, "a witness more powerful than sight:"

There has come to me in these last few days a deepening and reassuring faith. I can't leave this conference without saying to you that I have a conviction that the Master hasn't been absent from us on these occasions. This is His church. Where else would He rather be than right here at the headquarters of His church? He isn't an absentee master; He is concerned about us. He wants us to follow where He leads. I know that He is a living reality, as is our Heavenly Father. I know it. I only hope that I can qualify for the high place to which He has called me and in which you have sustained me.

I know with all my soul that these sayings are true, and as a special witness I want you to know from the bottom of my heart that there is no shadow of doubt as to the genuineness of the work of the Lord in which we are engaged, the only name under heaven by which mankind can be saved. (72-43, p. 134)

Jesus Christ is our Savior. As one of those who feels himself the least among you, and having a right as a member of this church, and by appointment, to testify of these things of which I have spoken to you this morning, in all solemnity, and with all my soul, I bear you my testimony that I know that Jesus lives, that He is the Savior of the world. I know that He reveals Himself and is revealing Himself to His prophets. Week by week, day by day, we see the on-rolling of His works, guided and directed and shepherded on every side, through the President of the Church, who has been set apart to preside as the mouthpiece of the Lord to His church. (56-01, p. 12)

Jesus lives! I bear my witness to you this morning. There are some witnesses I cannot give now, perhaps sometime later. Many things are too sacred to share at this time. I have received a witness that I cannot or dare not deny. When I see Jesus, I cannot mistake His identity. I know that He lives! (72-16)

I came away from some of these experiences never to feel the same again about the mission of our Lord and Savior. I had impressed upon me, as I have never had it impressed before, what it means to be a special witness. I say, with all the conviction of my soul, I know that Jesus lives. I know that He was the very Son of God. And I know that in this church and in the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be found the way to salvation. (72-05, pp. 337-38)

With all my soul and conviction, and knowing the seriousness and import of that testimony, I will tell you that I know that He lives. I am conscious of His presence much of the time when I have needed Him most; I have known it out of the whisperings of the night, the impressions of the daytime when there were things for which I was responsible and on which I could receive guidance. So I testify to you and tell you that He is closer to the leaders of this church than you have any idea. Listen to the leaders of this church and follow their footsteps in righteousness, if you would learn not only by study, but also by faith. (68-05, pp. 127-28)

A witness from the Holy Ghost is more powerful than sight. As I pray for the guidance of the Spirit, and seek to rise to the responsibility which has been given me, I don't ask for any special endowment. I ask only to go where the Lord would have me go, and only to receive what the Lord would have me receive, knowing that more important than sight is the witness that one may have by the witness of the Holy Ghost to his soul that things are so and that Jesus is the Christ, a living personage. It is that which guides me through many of the experiences of life. (73-29, p. 88)

On the day when I came to this call, which imposed a greater responsibility to be a witness of the mission of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — I suppose no one ever came to such a position without a lot of soul-searching, realizing his own inadequacy, and without the help of the Almighty — after a long night of searching and days of spiritual preparation that followed, I came to know as a witness more powerful than sight, until I could testify with a surety that defied all doubt, that I knew with every fiber of my soul that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, that He lived, He died, He was resurrected, and today He presides in the heavens, directing the affairs of this church, which bears His name because it preaches His doctrine. I bear that testimony humbly and leave you my witness. (71-19)

The call to be a prophet brought an outpouring of love. Now I want to tell you a little sacred experience I had following the call to be the President of the Church. On the early morning thereafter with my wife I kneeled in humble prayer, and suddenly it seemed as though my mind and heart went out to over three million people in all the world. I seemed to have a love for every one of them no matter where they lived nor what their color was, whether they were rich or poor, whether they were humble or great, or educated or not. Suddenly I felt as though they all belonged to me, as though they were all my own brothers and sisters.

So with that heart full of love toward all of you people included in that great feeling, I extend my blessing to you and your families, that your lives will become symbols of your faith and your love for your Heavenly Father, that you will be more diligent and faithful in the performance of all your duties in the Church. (72-30)

The principle of foreordination provides assurance to leaders. I want to add my testimony to those that have already been borne. Since the shock of [President Joseph Fielding Smith's] passing came, and realizing now that the Twelve would have the responsibility to take up the labors and determine what steps to take in order to reorganize the presidency of the Church, and serving as I do as the senior member of the Council, I have been concerned. I have wanted to know what the Lord's will would be. I wanted to do nothing except I knew it was of the Lord. I have sought most earnestly to know, to be guided, so that this church could go on and be worthy of those who have sacrificed, who have given their lives that this church might grow.

I have received a special witness the last few days. I had a comfort from one who wrote, "Men who are called to these leading positions in the Church were foreordained to that mission before they came to this earth." If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't dare stand in the place where I am today; believing that, I have no fear, anxiety, and concern, because I know the Lord is at the helm in guiding the work of the Church. (72-23, p. 39)

An Apostle is called to be a special witness of the Savior. As one who is expected to bear solemn testimony, I exercise the opportunity of declaring to you my sacred testimony. When the call to the apostleship came, it was on a Saturday night of general conference. I was called to the front of the Tabernacle to meet the President of the Church [Heber J. Grant], and I walked into the General Authorities' room and found him crying. He put his hands on my shoulders and told me that I had been named to be a member of the Council of the Twelve. I said to him, "Oh, President, do you think I am worthy of that?" As quick as a flash, he said, "If I didn't think so, my boy, you wouldn't be called."

Then I spent a night I shall never forget. There was no sleep that night. All my life seemed to be coming before me, as in a panorama. I could have told you every person who had any ill will toward me. I could have told you every person against whom I had any ill will, and the feeling came that before I was worthy to accept that call as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I had to love and forgive every soul that walked the earth. Then when I began to fear the experience of standing in the Tabernacle with so many listening, I found the Spirit directed my words. I don't know what I said; it wasn't anything I had prepared.

On the following Thursday I walked into the room where I was to be ordained. There were twelve chairs in a semicircle, with three chairs in front for the First Presidency. As I thought of the men who had sat in those chairs, and I now was being invited to sit as one in that circle, it was an overwhelming, shattering feeling. Am I worthy, can I measure up, can I reach the goal or attain the spiritual heights that such a position requires?

Well, that day passed, ordination came, and then one of the Twelve came to me and said, "Now we would like you to be the speaker at the Sunday night service. It is for Easter Sunday. As an ordained Apostle, you are to be a special witness of the mission and resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." That, I think, was the most startling, the most overwhelming contemplation of all that had happened.

I locked myself in one of the rooms of the Church Office Building and took out the Bible. I read in the four Gospels, particularly the scriptures pertaining to the death, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Lord, and as I read, I suddenly became aware that something strange was happening. It wasn't just a story I was reading, for it seemed as though the events I was reading about were very real as though I were actually living those experiences. On Sunday night I delivered my humble message and said, "And now, I, one of the least of the Apostles here on the earth today, bear you witness that I too know with all my soul that Jesus is the Savior of the world and that He lived and died and was resurrected for us."

I knew because of a special kind of witness that had come to me the preceding week. Then someone asked, "How do you know? Have you seen?" I can say that more powerful than one's sight is the witness that comes by the power of the Holy Ghost bearing testimony to our spirits that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. (66-01, pp. 25-27)

The veil has been thin. I thank the Lord that I may have passed some of the tests, but maybe there will have to be more before I shall have been polished to do all that the Lord would have me do.

Sometimes when the veil has been very thin, I have thought that if the struggle had been still greater, maybe then there would have been no veil. I stand by, not asking for anything more than the Lord wants to give me, but I know that He is up there and He is guiding and directing.

May you know that I know with a certainty that defies all doubt that this is His work, that He is guiding us and directing us today. (73-36, pp. 385, 386)

Hold to my testimony until you develop one. I come to you with a witness as sure as was the Apostle Paul's, perhaps in a manner in which the Apostle Paul received his. A witness more perfect than sight is the witness by which the Holy Ghost bears witness to one's soul that he knows these things are true. I witness to you tonight, with all my soul, that I know, as the Spirit has borne witness to my soul, that the Savior lives. To you who may not have that testimony, may I ask you to hold to my testimony until you have developed one for yourselves. But work on it, study, and pray until you too can know with a certainty that these things are true — that God lives and this is the plan of salvation. (70-21)

7 comments:

  1. Thank you. We have recently been discussing foreordination and the exerpts from President Lee's life have added to that discussion. And his testimony has added to ours.

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  2. Thank you. Can you remember the bookstore you can purchase this Chambers painting in a large print? I will search if you cannot remember. I have wanted one for a long time.

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  3. I was delighted to finally a picture on the Internet depicting the Chambers painting of The Lord. I bought a print of this painting from the BYU bookstore in early 1980 while training at the MTC. I still have it and one of my sons asked me about it last year. We searched and searched the Internet for it without any success. I didn't even remember who the artist was. Now I know. I would really like to find out where I can purchase a copy. Any ideas?

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  4. The Catholic bookstore where I found it many years ago was on 21st South in Sugarhouse. It may not be there anymore. I haven't looked for it in recent years.

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  5. We have had the same experience with seeing it in Orem at a bookstore in the early 80's while attending BYU(kicked ourselves since the day we walked out, poor college students). We have also looked for the picture on the internet and today was the first time I have found it. I have heard the story you relate here, from my husband who heard it on his mission. Would really like to find it for him. Thank you for sharing, as it is also the first time I have seen the artist's name and at least have a place to start looking.

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  6. That picture painted by Chambers, is very dear to me.. My grandma has many pictures in her home, and had a tradition of taking her grandbabies around her home to see each one. she would pay attnetion to the reaction they had to them and would give each of us that picture that we reacted to the most. When I was 3 months old, she stated I had the most reaction to this picture she had painted by Chambers. She knew that instance that I knew who he was. She gave me that picture when I was 16 and its my most treasured thing I own.. my mom sent me this link today, as I havent been able to find much info on this picture, or know of anyone else who has it. Still to this day, I know who my savior is. :)

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    1. Thank you for adding your witness to this blog post. I appreciate your contribution.

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