By Eric Johnson
M. Russell Ballard, who served at the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 2018, passed away on November 12, 2023 at the age of 95.
Ballard’s passing made headline news in the state where I live, Utah. Remembrances were given over social media as well. On one Christian Facebook site dedicated to discussion on Mormonism, someone responded that “I hope Ballard repented at the end of his life.”
Is it possible for someone like Ballard to come to his senses and accept the Jesus of the Bible? Of course, all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). He can make anything happen that is within His will. While certainly possible, however, it’s pretty unlikely for someone as strong in the LDS faith to do so. After all, this is a man who rose to one of the top positions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The chances someone like the head of the LDS apostles repented after more than nine decades of following a false prophet (Joseph Smith) and helping guide a church that leads millions of people to eternity in hell is miniscule.
Still, I thought about the point that the well-meaning Christian had made. Is it possible that Mr. Ballard somehow repented of his LDS ways at the end of his life? Based on his final words to the public less than six weeks earlier, I must say the answer is “no.”
Sunday Morning General Conference talk, October 1, 2023
Ballard’s final words to the public are found in the Liahona magazine (November 2023) on pages 74 to 76 in an article titled “Praise to the Man.” Who is this man? If you are not familiar with this religion, perhaps you thought this must be a reference to Jesus. Yet this is not “the man” talked about in hymn number 27 in the church hymnbook written by 19th century Mormon W.W. Phelps. This hymn is often played in LDS gatherings, especially at general conference sessions.
Here is the first verse and chorus:
- Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
According to these words, a mortal man (Joseph Smith) is uplifted in place of Jesus on a Sunday morning. Smith, after all, is the one who is supposedly “mingling with Gods” and who apparently makes plans from the heavenlies.
The next three verses just continue to get worse:
- Praise to his mem’ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame.
- Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
- Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know “Brother Joseph” again.
To summarize, Smith is praised for having:
- been a “matryr” (for more on this topic, click The “Martyrdom” of Joseph Smith)
- an “ever great name” (see Philippians 2:5-11 to see whose name truly is the greatest)
- “the earth laud his fame” in heaven
- “great” glory
- a place in heaven with biblical prophets
- the earth atone for Smith’s death (just how this can happen, we’re not told)
- a place where “millions shall know ‘Brother Joseph’ again”
To learn more about the blasphemies of this hymn, visit the article Praise to the Man. Just the title to Ballard’s talk foreshadows the very last talk this LDS leader ever gave.
Ballard’s final public words
In his first sentence, Ballard said, “I pray that the Lord will bless me” as he gave (unknown to him at that time) his final public comments on the church’s largest stage. I was struck by his words a minute later:
“I have seemed to have the Prophet Joseph in my mind the last few months. I’ve sat and contemplated his glorius responsibility in becoming the prophet of this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.”
As a Christian, I find it strange that anyone would want to “contemplate” a man with the character of someone like Joseph Smith, especially at the end of his life. At the age of 95 and being in poor health, Ballard certainly knew his time was short. For me, as a Christian, I would much rather contemplate Jesus, the perfect man who came to this world to save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Ballard proceeded to laud the First Vision, citing Joseph Smith-History 1:17 which describes the official account about how God the Father and Jesus supposedly told Smith, “This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!” Ballard said, “Thus began the Restoration of the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.” Absent from his citation are the following verses (18 and 19), which say,
18 My object in going to ainquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. 19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
As inferred in his words “restoration of the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ,” Ballard plants his flag by saying that the Great Apostasy is true and that the doctrines of Mormonism–not biblical Christianity–can be historically traced to Jesus, Paul, and the first Christians 2,000 years ago.
Ballard makes a reference to the hymn “Praise to the Man” and lifts up the church founder, saying “We thank the Lord for Joseph Smith and for his courage…” Then he gives this eye-opening quote:
“I’ve been thinking about all of the marvelous things that we know and all the things that we have. My beloved brothers and sisters, my testimony to you this morning is how abundantly blessed we are to know all that we know because we have Joseph Smith, the prophet of this last dispensation of time. We have an understanding of the purpose of life, of who we are. We know who God is; we know who the Savior is because we have Joseph, who went into a grove of trees as a boy, seeking forgiveness of his sins.”
First of all, verse 18 (cited above) does not say that Smith went to seek “forgiveness of his sins” but rather he went to inquire “which of all the sects was right.” Several other competing versions of the First Vision do talk about Smith wanting to be forgiven, but this detail did not make it into the official 1838 version. For more on the different accounts of the First Vision, see Do the First Vision accounts coincide?
Second, Smith taught false doctrine as mentioned here. For instance, his idea of who God is blasphemous. I encourage the reader to look at the entire sermon given by Smith in 1844. Here is a link to read it in context: King Follett Discourse. If you are a Bible-believing Christian, ask yourself if the following citations reflect the God whom you worship:
“I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man. God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret, if the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.”Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345. Italics in original. See also Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 129).
In that same sermon Smith also taught,
“I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man. God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret, if the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.”Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. See also Achieving a Celestial Marriage, 129.
What Smith said was championed by Ballard a few years before his death. Responding to criticism of Christians concerning Mormonism, he said,
“They’re [Evangelical Christians] locked into the Nicene Creed… We’re locked into the restoration and the experiences of Joseph Smith,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ‘And that will undoubtedly be an issue until God himself comes’.”“Elder Ballard Responds to Evangelical Criticism,” Deseret News, December 6, 2007. Ellipsis in original. Brackets mine).
The Bible is very clear that what Smith (and Ballard, for that matter) described is not the same God as worshiped histrocially by Christians. If Smith is wrong about the nature of God, what else was he wrong on? As it turns out, many other doctrinal matters as well, including:
- the nature of Jesus
- the Trinity
- the way a person has their sins forgiven
- true scripture
And so much more. Ballard went on to say “that Joseph has been raised up to restore the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.” Of course, he is referring to the Book of Mormon, which he called “a marvelous and wonderful gift,” as “it is another witness, another testament that Jesus is the Christ.”
Ballard held his faith in the Book of Mormon to the very end of his life, despite the many problems with this book. Check out these two articles to see why this book is not held favorably by Evangelical Christians:
- 10 reasons why the Book of Mormon is rejected as scripture by Christians
- Why Don’t Christians Accept the Book of Mormon?
From here in this talk, Ballard then pledged allegiance to the founding prophet:
“Though my message this morning is simple, it’s deep, and it’s full of love for the Prophet Joseph Smith and for all of those, my brothers and sisters, who have sustained him and were willing to sustain him in his youth.”
Again, all adoration was given to a false prophet. Ballard went on to compliment Smith’s family members “who sustained him in this tremendous responsibility that the Lord placed upon him to become the prophet to restore the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ once again upon the earth.”
Ballard then gave what I believe is “lip service” to Jesus when he said, “So my testimony this morning is that I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world.” He praised the Father and the Son for appearing and speaking to Smith at the First Vision and preparing “him to become the prophet.” He said, “I marvel, and I’m sure that many of you do too, at how blessed we are to know what we know about our purpose in life, why we are here, what we should be trying to do and accomplish in our daily lives.”
Comnsider what Smith said in the King Follett Discourse about this topic:
“Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 346-347
According to Mormonism, faithful people should quit “trying” to accomplish what God has commissioned to be done and actually do it. This is true according the LDS scripture compiled by Smith, including 1 Nephi 3:7, which says God does not give commandments to humans that cannot be kept. Rather, this religion teaches that it is possible to keep these commandments. As twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball said in chapter 12 (“Abandonment of Sin”) of his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, “Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin.” (164, italics in original).
Toward the end of his talk, Ballarrd reminised:
“I’ll soon be 95. My children tell me they think I’m a lot older than that some days, but that’s OK. I’m doing the best I can.”
Unfortunately for Ballard, Kimball had something to say about “doing your best” as well. In The Miracle of Forgiveness, Kimball wrote on page 165, “To ‘do the best I can’ is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life.”
What about deathbed confessions?
I know the Christian meant well when expressing hope that Ballard may have repented before he died. Let’s be honest, though. “Deathbed” confessions are rare. After a lifetime of living without God, few people sincerely turn their lives over to Christ in their final days. No doubt, some do repent” on the proverbial deathbed, but often I wonder if their confessions were nothing more than a vain attempt to escape hell. Just in case there is a God, some may decide to hedge their bets and say a sinner’s prayer to make themselves and family members feel better. It’s almost like a “Hail Mary” pass thrown at the end of a football game or a full-court shot at the buzzer in basketball. It probably won’t work, but what the heck, why not give it a try?
Regardless, the so-called “death bed confession has been regularly mocked by LDS leaders as not being valid. Even Joseph Smith discredited such a possibility:
“The infidel will grasp at every straw for help until death stares him in the face, and then his infidelity takes its flight, for the realities of the eternal world are resting upon him in mighty power; and when every earthly support and prop fails him, he then sensibly feels the eternal truths of the immortality of the soul. We should take warning and not wait for the death-bed to repent, as we see the infant taken away by death, so may the youth and middle aged, as well as the infant be suddenly called into eternity. Let this, then, prove as a warning to all not to procrastinate repentance, or wait till a deathbed for it is the will of God that man should repent and serve Him in health, and in the strength and power of his mind, in order to secure His blessing, and not wait until he is called to die.”History of the Church 4:553-554.
In the traditional sense of “deathbed repentance,” then, Mormonism does not allow for this possibility. Instead, Mormonism advocates doing good works in order to qualify for forgiveness of sins.
M. Russell Ballard lived for 95 years as a faithful member who had been “born in the covenant.” He touted Mormonism throughout his life and never gave any indication he had any doubts. In his final sermon just a few weeks before he died, Ballard lauded his founding prophet and gave him praise rather than offering praise to Jesus. While we don’t relish in the fact, M. Russell Ballard’s attempt to get forgiveness of sin falls short of fully accepting the mercy and grace of Jesus. While there is still time, Latter-day Saints must come to the point of pledging their full allegiance to either Joseph Smith or Jesus. Only one can save.
Other articles to consider: