Anyone who favors term limits for members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles should take a close look at Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s three last General Conference addresses. Written and delivered when he was ninety and ninety-one years of age, Elder Wirthlin’s final three sermons are Exhibits A, B, and C in the case for why Apostleship is a life-long calling. Like a bottle of wine, Elder Wirthlin’s wit and wisdom only got better with age.
In this post, I’d like to briefly review just one of those great talks.
In October of 2007, Elder Wirthlin took the podium and began delivering a masterpiece of a sermon: The Great Commandment. Just a few moments into the talk, Elder Wirthlin began to tremble a bit, and then began trembling more violently as his talk progressed. At his advanced age, it was obviously difficult for him to stand to deliver his sermon.
A familiar scripture came to my mind: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” I was deeply moved by Elder Wirthlin’s willing spirit; he was determined to deliver his message at any cost, and refused to allow his obvious physical difficulties to stop him. At one point Elder Wirthlin began shaking so seriously that Elder Nelson (a doctor by profession) got up from his chair and came to Elder Wirthlin’s side, steadying and holding Elder Wirthlin up for the duration of his sermon. Elder Nelson’s silent act of assistance and concern was a beautiful sermon in itself.
But through all the trembling and swaying and shaking, Elder Wirthlin didn’t skip a beat in delivering his powerful words. It seemed something inside him was compelling him, almost as if he believed he had an urgent, life-or-death message that he had to get through to the world no matter what. And as it turned out, it was a message the world so desperately needed to hear:
Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship. . . .
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of transformation. It takes us as men and women of the earth and refines us into men and women for the eternities.
The means of this refinement is our Christlike love. There is no pain it cannot soften, no bitterness it cannot remove, no hatred it cannot alter. The Greek playwright Sophocles wrote: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”
The most cherished and sacred moments of our lives are those filled with the spirit of love. The greater the measure of our love, the greater is our joy. In the end, the development of such love is the true measure of success in life.
Brethren and sisters, as you prayerfully consider what you can do to increase harmony, spirituality, and build up the kingdom of God, consider your sacred duty to teach others to love the Lord and their fellowman. This is the central object of our existence. . . .
At the final day the Savior will not ask about the nature of our callings. He will not inquire about our material possessions or fame. He will ask if we ministered to the sick, gave food and drink to the hungry, visited those in prison, or gave succor to the weak. When we reach out to assist the least of Heavenly Father’s children, we do it unto Him. That is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am not an overly emotional person, but I was literally moved to tears when Elder Wirthlin, his whole frame trembling, then spoke these words:
The Savior’s love for us was so great that it caused “even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore.”
As I watched this trembling disciple of Christ mustering his feeble strength to deliver his message of love, I couldn’t help imagining a trembling Christ who, nailed to a cross with arms open wide, his knees shaking and straining just to hold his body up, preached the world his final unspoken sermon of love. And I was deeply touched to see Elder Wirthlin, this humble disciple of Christ, giving his all to emulate the Savior in this small but unmistakable way, and all to give the world his desperately-needed message of Love.
With Elder Wirthlin’s passing, we have lost the voice of a wise, gentle, humble, and loving servant of God. But thankfully, his pleading message of love will always remain with us.
May God bless you, Elder Wirthlin, as well as the loved ones you have left behind.