An edited version of “God Will Forgive,” The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, pp. 339–60.
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“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” (D&C 58:42–43.)
The purging out of sin would be impossible but for the total repentance of the individual and the kind mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ in his atoning sacrifice. Only by these means can man recover, be healed and washed and purged, and still be eligible for the glories of eternity. On the Savior’s great role in this, Helaman reminded his sons of King Benjamin’s comments:
“There is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come: yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.” (Hel. 5:9.)
In recalling the words which Amulek spoke to Zeezrom, Helaman emphasized man’s part in obtaining forgiveness—repenting of his sins:
“He said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
“And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance.” (Hel. 5:10–11; italics added.)
Such scriptures breathe hope into the soul of the sinner. Hope is indeed the great incentive to repentance, for without it no one would make the difficult, extended effort required especially when the sin is a major one.
An experience I had some years ago emphasized this. A young woman approached me in a city far from my home and came under some pressure from her husband. She admitted to me that she had committed adultery. She was a bit hard and unyielding, and finally said: “I know what I have done. I have read the scriptures, and I know the consequences. I know that I am damned and can never be forgiven, and therefore why should I try now to repent?”
My reply to her was: “My dear sister, you do not know the scriptures. You do not know the power of God nor his goodness. You can be forgiven for this terrible sin, but it will take much sincere repentance to accomplish it.”
Then I quoted to her the cry of her Lord:
“Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” (Isa. 49:15.)
I reminded her of the Lord’s words in our dispensation to the effect that whoever repents and obeys God’s commandments will be forgiven. (See D&C 1:32.) My visitor looked bewildered but seemed to be yearning as though she wanted to believe it. I continued: “For all but the unpardonable sin forgiveness eventually will come to that transgressor who repents sorely enough, long enough, sincerely enough.”
She remonstrated again, though she was beginning to yield. She wanted so much to believe it. She said she had known all her life that adultery was unforgivable. And I turned again to the scriptures and read to her the oft-repeated statement of Jesus:
“All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matt. 12:31–32.)
She had forgotten that scripture. Her eyes lighted up. She reacted joyously to it, and asked, “Is that really true? Can I really be forgiven?”
Realizing that hope is the first requirement, I continued by reading many scriptures to her, to build up the hope that was now awakened within her.
How great the joy to feel and know that God will forgive sinners! Jesus declared in his Sermon on the Mount: “Your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:14.) This is on certain conditions, of course.
In modern revelation the Lord has said to his prophet: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42.) Our Lord gave the same word through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34.) How gracious is the Lord!
On the occasion I am recalling, this woman, who was basically good, straightened up and looked me in the eye, and in her voice was a new power and resoluteness as she said: “Thank you, thank you! I believe you. I shall really repent and wash my filthy garments in the blood of the Lamb and obtain that forgiveness.”
Not long ago, she returned to my office a new person bright of eye, light of step, full of hope as she declared to me that, since that memorable day when hope had seen a star and had clung to it, she had never reverted to her sin nor any approaches to it.
Certainly the Lord loves the person who is trying to repent, even though the sin is abhorrent to him. (See D&C 1:31.) Those who have transgressed can find many scriptures which will comfort them and impel them to move forward into total and continuing repentance. For instance, continuing his revelation to all men, referred to above, the Lord stated:
“Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven;
“And he that repents not, from him shall be taken the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.” (D&C 1:32–33.)
It should be remembered that these commandments from the standard works of the Church are to “all men, and there is none to escape.” (D&C 1:2.) This means that the call to repentance from sin is to all men and not to the members of the Church only, and not to those only whose sins are considered major ones. And the call promises forgiveness of sin to those who respond. What a farce it would be to call people to repentance if there were no forgiveness, and what a waste of the life of Christ if it failed to bring the opportunity for salvation and exaltation!
Sometimes a guilt consciousness overpowers a person with such a heaviness that when a repentant one looks back and sees the ugliness, the loathsomeness of the transgression, he is almost overwhelmed and wonders, “Can the Lord ever forgive me? Can I ever forgive myself?” But when one reaches the depths of despondency and feels the hopelessness of his position, and when he cries out to God for mercy in helplessness but in faith, there comes a still, small, but penetrating voice whispering to his soul, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
The image of a loving, forgiving God comes through clearly to those who read and understand the scriptures. Since he is our Father, he naturally desires to raise us up, not to push us down, to help us live, not to bring about our spiritual death. “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” he has said, “… wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.” (Ezek. 18:32.)
As he fervently prayed at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, the Prophet Joseph Smith expressed his assurance that sins could be blotted out: “O Jehovah, have mercy upon this people, and as all men sin forgive the transgressions of thy people, and let them be blotted out forever.” (D&C 109:34.) The thought of blotting out of sins during the process of forgiveness was also expressed by the Lord when he said: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (Isa. 43:25.)
“Great are the words of Isaiah,” said the Savior (3 Ne. 23:1), and that prophet’s words rise to the sublime in the well-known passage wherein he made a promise of forgiveness to all who will repent:
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isa. 55:6–7; italics added.)
What a glorious promise of forgiveness the Lord made through the great Isaiah! Mercy and pardon! What more could men want or hope for!
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:18.)
In the matter of sexual sin and adultery many have likewise been deeply worried. The prophet Joseph Smith gave us many scriptures which state that there is forgiveness; and other holy scriptures attest that repentance can bring forgiveness if that repentance is sufficiently “all-out” and total. Here are some of the words from the pens of Joseph Smith and other prophets. For brevity, I give here in summary only the key phrases.
“He that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive.” (D&C 42:25.)
“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42.)
“I am able to make you holy, and your sins are forgiven you.” (D&C 60:7.)
“I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.” (D&C 64:7.)
“When … they repent of the evil, they shall be forgiven.” (D&C 64:17.)
“They shall be purified, even as I am pure.” (D&C 35:21.)
“I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34.)
“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions.” (Isa. 44:22.)
“If he … repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.” (Mosiah 26:29.)
“Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. 10:17.)
Less than a year after the restoration of the church of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer spoke concerning the ugly sin of infidelity and lustfulness and the conditions for receiving forgiveness:
“And he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out.
“Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out.
“But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive.” (D&C 42:23–25.)
I have already referred to the statement of the Savior that all manner of sin except blasphemy against the Holy Ghost can be forgiven. (See Matt. 12:31.) It is of interest that in preparing his inspired revision of this passage Joseph Smith added the significant words “who receive me and repent,” which are italicized in the following passage:
“All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men who receive me and repent; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven unto men.” (JST, Matt. 12:26; italics added.)
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith made this comment: “No unrepentant person who remains in his sins will ever enter into the glories of the celestial kingdom.” (Improvement Era, July 1955, p. 542.) This statement is consistent with all we read in the scriptures on the subject, which is perhaps summed up in Alma’s words: “There can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain.” (Alma 5:21.)
In offering these suggestions let it be understood that I have no intent to minimize the seriousness of the sexual sins or other transgressions but merely to hold out hope to the transgressor, so that men and women of sin may strive with all their power to overcome their errors, wash themselves “in the blood of the Lamb,” be purged and purified, and thus be able to return to their Maker. Those involved must not relax because of the possibility of forgiveness. Let me repeat that it is a serious and solemn matter when people permit themselves to get into sexual sins, of which adultery is only one of the more serious ones.
Paul’s comment to the Corinthians teaches a similar thought:
“Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
“Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9–10.)
Here is a statement that is true! Certainly, the kingdom cannot be populated with such persons as Paul had found in the Church branches where he worked. It could hardly be glory and honor and power and joy if the eternal kingdom were made up of fornicators, adulterers, idolaters, sexual perverts, thieves, covetous persons, drunkards, liars, rebels, reprobates, extortioners, and other such people. But Paul’s next thought is comforting as well as clarifying:
“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11.)
This is the great secret. Some of those who inherit the kingdom may have committed one or more of these grievous sins, but they are therefore no longer in those categories. They are no longer unclean, having been washed, sanctified, and justified. Paul’s hearers had been in those despicable categories, but having now received the gospel with its purifying, transforming powers, they were changed. The cleansing process had been applied and they were washed clean and had become eligible for the first resurrection and for exaltation in God’s kingdom.
When a defiled man is born again, his habits are changed, his thoughts cleansed, his attitudes regenerated and elevated, his activities put in total order, and everything about him that was dirty, degenerate or reprobate is washed and made clean.
The analogy holds also in other areas of life. When soiled clothes have been through the laundry and washed, starched and pressed, they are no longer filthy. When the smallpox victim has been healed and cleansed, he is no longer contaminated. When one is washed and purged and cleansed, he is no longer a sinner. The washing, purging, cleansing process is mentioned many times, many places, by many prophets.
The effect of the cleansing is beautiful. Troubled souls have found peace. The soiled robes have been cleansed to spotlessness. These people formerly defiled, having been cleansed through their repentance, their washing, their purging, their whitening—are made worthy for constant temple service and to be found before the throne of God associating with divine royalty.
But to every forgiveness there is a condition. The plaster must be as wide as the sore. The fasting, the prayers, the humility must be equal to or greater than the sin. There must be a broken heart and a contrite spirit. There must be “sackcloth and ashes.” There must be tears and genuine change of heart. There must be conviction of the sin, abandonment of the evil, confession of the error to properly constituted authorities of the Lord. There must be restitution and a confirmed, determined change of pace, direction and destination. Conditions must be controlled and companionship corrected or changed. There must be a washing of robes to get them white, and there must be a new consecration and devotion to living all of the laws of God. In short, there must be an overcoming of self, of sin, and of the world.
Following this deep repentance, the person is ready for the mercy of the Lord. The Prophet Alma discourses on the mercies of the Lord through the cleansing power wherein repentance has purged sin, and joy leads toward “rest” or exaltation:
“Therefore they were called after this holy order [of the high priesthood] and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.
“Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceeding great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.” (Alma 13:11–12.)
This passage indicates an attitude which is basic to the sanctification we should all be seeking, and thus to the repentance which merits forgiveness. It is that the former transgressor must have reached a “point of no return” to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin—where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life.
Surely this is what is meant, in part at least, by being pure in heart! And when we read in the Sermon on the Mount that the “pure in heart” shall see God, it gives meaning to the Lord’s statement, made through the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832, that presently impure people can perfect themselves and become pure:
“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” (D&C 88:68.)
Again, in 1833, the Prophet gave assurance that the totally repentant person will see the Lord; and this means forgiveness, for only the pure in heart will see God.
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” (D&C 93:1.)
Such was the state Enos was in when, after long, fervent prayer and sincere repentance, he received the assurance that his sins were forgiven. He records:
“And there came a voice unto me saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie.” (Enos 1:5–6.)
With such a magnanimous promise, why would anyone hesitate to throw off the evils of his life and come to his Lord?
May I add one final thought. In all our expressions of wonder and gratitude at our Father’s loving and forgiving attitude, we must not be misled into supposing either that forgiveness may be considered lightly or that sin may be repeated with impunity after protestations of repentance.
“And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.” (Ether 2:15.)
Another error into which some transgressors fall, because of the availability of God’s forgiveness, is the illusion that they are somehow stronger for having committed sin and then lived through the period of repentance. This simply is not true. That man who resists temptation and lives without sin is far better off than the man who has fallen, no matter how repentant the latter may be. The reformed transgressor, it is true, may be more understanding of one who falls into the same sin, and to that extent perhaps more helpful in the latter’s regeneration. But his sin and repentance have certainly not made him stronger than the consistently righteous person. God will forgive—of that, we are sure. How satisfying it is to be cleansed from filthiness, but how much better it is never to have committed the sin!
From what I have said, I hope it is clear that forgiveness is available to all who have not committed the unpardonable sin. Fortunately for some, when repentance is adequate God will forgive even one who has been excommunicated—which, like surgery, unfortunately is sometimes necessary.
“But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered.
“Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” (3 Ne. 18:31–32.)
Forgiveness of sins is one of the most glorious principles God ever gave to man. Just as repentance is a divine principle, so also is forgiveness. Were it not for this principle, there would be no point in crying repentance. But because of this principle the divine invitation is held out to all of us—come, repent of your sins, and be forgiven!
Ideas for Home Teachers
1. Relate your personal feelings about the blessings of forgiveness. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there some scriptural verses or other quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Discuss the repentance process: sorrow for sin, abandonment of sin, confession of sin, restitution for sin, and doing the will of the Lord. Why is it important to initiate this process early instead of postponing repentance?
4. President Kimball says that some “who inherit the kingdom may have committed … grievous sins, but are … no longer unclean, having been washed, sanctified, and justified. … When one is washed and purged and cleansed, he is no longer a sinner.” Discuss the hope and encouragement this message can give.
5. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop to the household head concerning repentance?