The story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil in the home of Simon the Pharisee opens to us a most interesting subject and one that touches the lives of all of us. Simon, believing the woman was a sinner, thought it improper she should touch the Savior and that “if he were a prophet,” Jesus should have been aware of her unworthiness and forbidden her.
Jesus responded with the story of two debtors, the one owing five hundred pence and the other fifty. When the debtors had nothing to pay, the creditor forgave them both. The Savior then asked, “Which of them will love him [the creditor] most?
“Simon answered and said, I suppose he, to whom he forgave the most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.”
At the end of the discussion, Jesus said to the woman, “Thy sins are forgiven” (see Luke 7:37–48).
From the Book of Mormon we learn of Alma the Younger, who, having committed serious sins, received from the Lord a blessing similar to that given to the woman in the home of Simon. He had been persecuting the Church and trying to destroy the work of his father when an angel accosted him and threatened him with destruction. For three days and nights, Alma was “racked … with the pains of a damned soul,” and then he remembered his father speaking of one Jesus Christ who would come to atone for the sins of the world.
“Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
“And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:18–20.)
While serving as a mission president, I often thought about Alma’s experience. Several of our missionaries were recent converts and had been through experiences that scarred their lives. They related to me the joy that filled their hearts and souls when they entered the waters of baptism and the feelings of peace and freedom from guilt that were now a part of their lives. I heard similar experiences as a General Authority when assigned to restore blessings to those who had transgressed and lost their membership in the Church. They described to me the heartache and the inner turmoil they had suffered and the sweet feeling that came back into their lives upon being baptized once again. When I laid my hands upon their heads and restored their blessings, there was a spirit of peace present, and we witnessed the blessings that come through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Tears filled their eyes and those of their families. Loved ones had returned.
In 1858 Elder Ezra T. Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve described the blessing of forgiveness in these words:
“Now, if we all realize and do actually know that God is with us—that he has forgiven our sins—that we are in fellowship with this people and have confidence to go before our God in prayer, knowing that our sins are put far away from us, no more to return again, unless through our disobedience, it is one of the greatest blessings that can be conferred upon us” (Journal of Discourses, 6:177).
Because of our imperfections, there is a continual concern within each of us that makes us hope we are worthy to have our sins forgiven. The Lord realized that a onetime forgiveness at baptism would not serve our purposes. This was evident in the days of ancient Israel when once a year the congregation of Israel observed the Day of Atonement. During this sacrifice, two goats were brought to the high priest. One goat was sacrificed to the Lord, and the priest conferred the sins of Israel on the head of the other goat. This goat, carrying all their sins, was then led into the wilderness and set free, symbolic of the Savior’s being led without the wall of Jerusalem to be crucified for the sins of the world (see Lev. 16:21–22; John 19:16–20; Heb. 13:11–12).
That the Savior is prepared to forgive and has the power and authority to do so is indicated in the incident of the man stricken with palsy. Jesus said to the man, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. … Certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.
“And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?
“For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
“… The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:2–6).
It is evident to each of us that we cannot live in this world and be surrounded by its negative influences and remain untouched. There is a spirit of evil that can creep into our thoughts and hearts and that will tend to cloud our vision and the reception of spiritual guidance. Just as the Lord removed the sins of Israel on a regular basis, he has prepared the way for us to do so as well. President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, once compared this cleansing process to a barnacle-encrusted ship that sails from ocean water into fresh water. The barnacles die and leave the ship free and clean. Similarly, if we are striving to do our best and keep the commandments, there are blessings for obedience that clean away the barnacles we may have collected, leaving us clean before the Lord and open to his spirit and promptings.
One of the most important and prominent of these opportunities for obedience occurs each week as we attend our sacrament meetings. When we partake of the sacrament, remembering the sacrifice of our Savior, we are renewing the covenants we made at baptism. It is another opportunity to humble ourselves before the Lord and beseech his mercy and forgiveness. The way is opened for the remission of our sins and the continual companionship of the Holy Ghost. Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote:
“By partaking of the sacrament, worthy saints renew the covenant previously made by them in the waters of baptism (Mosiah 18:7–10); unbaptized children, being without sin, are entitled and expected to partake of the sacrament to prefigure the covenant they will take upon themselves when they arrive at the years of accountability. Worthy partakers of the sacrament put themselves in perfect harmony with the Lord. (3 Ne. 18.) As indicated by our Lord’s statement they gain ‘the remission of their sins.’ (Inspired Version, Matt. 26:24.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 660.)
“Whether we are rich or poor, if we neglect our prayers and our sacrament meetings, we neglect the Spirit of the Lord, and a spirit of darkness comes over us” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978, p. 170).
When I read Doctrine and Covenants, section 108, I think of the many times that the spirit of forgiveness might be felt in our lives. When Lyman Sherman was a high priest serving as one of the presidents of the Seventy, there arose some contention whether he or the Seventies had the most authority in the presidency. The Prophet decided to release him from his assignment in the seventies quorum and asked him to come see him. Brother Sherman felt disappointed and hurt but responded to the Prophet’s call and went to his office. The Lord then gave him this blessing: “Verily thus saith the Lord unto you, my servant Lyman: Your sins are forgiven you, because you have obeyed my voice in coming up hither this morning to receive counsel of him whom I have appointed” (D&C 108:1).
I wonder if that same blessing will apply to us when our bishop requests us to come to tithing settlement. Certainly, I have always had a special experience with my bishop and left his office feeling at peace and blessed for the privilege. Maybe we have feelings against someone or there are difficulties in our relationship with our companions, and the bishop, discerning this, asks us to visit with him. If we comply and are prepared to hearken to the counsel given, the spirit of forgiveness will envelop our soul and wash away our hardness of heart. Our obedience to the calls of those whom the Lord has appointed may bring blessings that we had not thought of.
Many of us have had the opportunity of receiving a blessing from the Lord under the hand of a patriarch. Most youth request their patriarchal blessings when they begin to mature and to search within themselves for a testimony and a purpose in life. I went to the Alberta Temple prior to going on my mission and had the opportunity to visit with a very spiritual patriarch by the name of John F. Anderson. The setting was especially impressive to me because we were in the temple and I felt a little awed at being there. Like most youths, I had done some foolish things but nothing of a serious nature that would have caused me to ponder about my worthiness or forgiveness in the eyes of the Lord.
The patriarch began his blessing with these words: “You are truly blessed of the Lord and well preserved; notwithstanding the follies of youth, you are clean this day before the Lord.” Even though I had never before dwelt on this thought to any extent, these words filled me with a feeling of great happiness. To think that the Lord was that mindful of me and willing to overlook and forgive the foolishness of youth and would pronounce me clean touched me very deeply. I have returned to read those words many times and have reflected that if he forgave me then, perhaps he will continue to forgive me and grant me the blessings of peace.
When we place our faith in the servants of the Lord and ask for a blessing under the hands of the priesthood during illness, there is an additional blessing not often mentioned. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“Where members of the Church are concerned, there is a close connection between manifestations of healing grace and the forgiveness of sins. When the elders administer to faithful saints, the promise is: ‘And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.’ (James 5:15.) The very fact that a member of the kingdom has matured in the gospel to the point that he has power through faith in Christ to be healed means that he also has so lived that he is entitled to have his sins remitted. Since all men repeatedly sin they must all gain successive remissions of their sins, otherwise none would eventually stand pure and spotless before the Lord and thus be worthy of a celestial inheritance” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, 1:179).
There are continual hidden rewards for obedience, and none is more obvious than when we are engaged in the wonderful missionary program of the Church. Who is there who has not experienced the special spirit that comes with this calling? Knowing we need to enjoy the spirit of the Holy Ghost in order to teach, the Lord offers this special blessing as we become saviors to our neighbors: “He that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul” (D&C 4:4). It is only after repentance and forgiveness of our sins that we receive salvation. A plainer message about the blessings associated with missionary service is found in D&C 84:61: “For I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment—that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you.”
Are there words to describe the joy that fills your heart when you teach and see someone you have taught enter the waters of baptism? I remember that as a stake missionary, I baptized the husbands of two faithful sisters who had waited patiently many years for their companions to accept the gospel. Tears flowed, and the Spirit of the Lord touched our hearts. I have no doubt that all present at that baptism shared in the special blessing of forgiveness.
The phrase “endure to the end” means just what it says, and we must continually come before the Lord in prayer and fasting and confession of our sins. The Lord, in speaking to ten elders traveling back to Kirtland, addressed them as “elders of my church, who are assembled upon this spot, whose sins are now forgiven you, for I, the Lord, forgive sins, and am merciful unto those who confess their sins with humble hearts” (D&C 61:2). Those elders were probably tired and weary from their travels, so how these words must have lightened their spirits, showing us once again that the Lord is mindful and merciful to those who love him and keep his commandments! We must never be discouraged or feel unworthy to the extent that we do not believe the Lord will hear our prayers.
Each day as I serve in the temple, I feel the spirit of those around me and believe they are among those to whom the Lord has offered his forgiveness because of their love and devotion. If we are truly humble and repentant, the Savior will accept us despite our frailties and weakness, and the day will come when he will say to us as he said to Joseph: “I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 132:49).
The Savior gave his life and atoned for our sins so that through the sacrifice of his blood we may be forgiven and be spotless before him. If we remain faithful in keeping the Lord’s commandments, we can receive assurances that our sins are forgiven. Then we will stand before him at some future time and be welcomed by these words: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21).