Melvin Joseph Ballard

Lawrence R. Flake, Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 447–51.

Melvin Joseph Ballard portrait

Born: 9 February 1873, Logan, Utah

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: 7 January 1919 (age 45)

Died: 30 July 1939 (age 66), Salt Lake City, Utah

A young Mormon elder did not sleep at all one night. Strong forces of emotion beyond anything he had ever felt before pulled at his heartstrings. He had been serving as a missionary in varous cities of the United States with two loyal companions, Elders B. H. Roberts and George D. Pyper, who had been sent out on the same day as he and who were now released. But Melvin J. Ballard, the youngest of the three and the most eager to return home, had been reassigned as a traveling elder in the Northern States Mission. He wept. It was not that he begrudged this service to the Lord—it was that he wanted to be with Martha, his bride, to whom he had been married three weeks before receiving his mission call. She was expecting their first child, and his longing to be by her side reached mammoth proportions that night.

Temptation from the forces of evil enshrouded him. He turned to the Lord for help. At this very difficult time he found in a little book the words to a poem which, later put to music, he sang for countless thousands in his travels throughout the Church:

It may not be on the mountain height

Or over the stormy sea;

It may not be at the battle’s front

My Lord will have need of me;

But if, by a still, small voice he calls

To paths that I do not know,

I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine;

I’ll go where you want me to go. [1]

This song captures the very essence of the rest of this great man’s life. Elder Ballard grew to know the Lord personally and, as one of the Lord’s beloved apostles, testified of him poignantly. As a child, Melvin received a special blessing from patriarch Zebedee Coltrin, whose shoes he had offered to shine every morning if Brother Coltrin would tell him about the Prophet Joseph Smith. In this blessing the Lord promised the lad that through his obedience he would become so in tune with the Lord’s Spirit that angels would minister to him daily and that he would speak to them face to face. During his lifetime of service, he did have many heavenly manifestations, including a sacred vision of the Savior in a dream.

Melvin’s childhood was spent in Logan, where his father was bishop for forty years and his pioneer mother was Relief Society president for thirty years. He obtained a degree in music from Brigham Young College at Logan. Desiring to go to Harvard University to further his talents, he took employment as a music teacher at the college and began saving toward this end. It was at this time that Martha A. Jones, one of his music students, attracted his attention, won his heart, and became his bride before his departure in 1896 for the mission in the East.

When he returned from his mission after two and a half years, Elder Ballard joined his wife and child in Logan and established the Logan Knitting Factory and the Logan Commercial Club. [2] From there he was called on another shorter mission—this time to the Boise Valley, where he organized a branch. The area soon mushroomed into one of the strongholds among the stakes of Zion. In 1909 Elder Ballard was set apart as president of the Northwestern States Mission, which position he held for nearly ten years.

During this time, he continued to have remarkable spiritual experiences, including acting as an instrument for the Lord in numerous healings. While many of these incidents are not recorded, his journal contains this entry: “I was called in to administer to a child dying with pneumonia. It was in convulsions, and the doctor said that it could not live thirty minutes. The parents said, ‘You have come in time to save the lost’ Fifteen minutes after administering to the child, it was at ease; and the next day it was well on the road to recovery.” [3]

In 1919 he became one of the Twelve Apostles, serving with valor in that office until his death. As an apostle, he served on the Music Committee, which prepared and issued the Latter- day Saint hymn book; he helped establish and develop the Boy Scout program in the Church; and he labored to bring about the Church’s vast welfare program. Along with two companions, he was called in 1925 to open the missionary work in South America. Seventy years had passed since missionaries had been sent to those nations. Even though they encountered many difficulties and met with slow response to the gospel message, Elder Ballard made an astounding prophecy, which is now being fulfilled: “The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows slowly from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. The work here is the smallest that it will ever be. The day will come when the Lamanites in this land will be given a chance. The South American Mission will be a power in the Church.” [4]

During his later years he continued to tour throughout the country, including in 1939 a trip which took him to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birthplace in Vermont. His last journal entries were made there. Shortly after his return, he died of leukemia, a disease from which even the wholesomeness of his life could not save him. [5]

Among all of the sacred experiences Elder Ballard had, perhaps the greatest was the personal witness of the Savior which had come to him in a dream two years before his call to the Counsel of the Twelve and which he shared with thousands of members of the Church:

I found myself one evening in the dreams of the night in that sacred building, the temple. After a season of prayer and rejoicing I was informed that I should have the privilege of entering into one of those rooms, to meet a glorious Personage, and, as I entered the door, I saw, seated on a raised platform, the most glorious Being my eyes have ever beheld or that I ever conceived existed in all the eternal words. As I approached to be introduced, he arose and stepped towards me with extended arms, and he smiled as he softly spoke my name. If I shall live to be a million years old, I shall never forget that smile. He took me into his arms and kissed me, pressed me to his bosom, and blessed me, until the marrow of my bones seemed to melt! When he had finished, I fell at his feet, and, as I bathed them with my tears and kisses, I saw the prints of the nails in the feet of the Redeemer of the world. The feeling that I had in the presence of him who hath all things in his hands, to have his love, his affection, and his blessing was such that if I ever can receive that of which I had but a foretaste, I would give all that I am, all that I ever hope to be, to feel what I then felt! [6]


[1] Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 270.

[2] M. Russell Ballard, ed., Melvin J. Ballard: . . . Crusader for Righteousness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 47.

[3] Ballard, Crusader for Righteousness, 51.

[4] Ballard, Crusader for Righteousness, 84.

[5] Ballard, Crusader for Righteousness, 95.

[6] Lewis J. Harmer, Revelation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1957), 166–67. See also Bryant S. Hinckley, “Melvin J. Ballard,” Improvement Era, October 1932, 712–15; Richard R. Lyman, “Melvin J. Ballard: A Beloved Apostle Departs,” Improvement Era, September 1939, 522–23, 569–70.