President Heber J. Grant’s daughter Lucy Grant Cannon wrote: “One of [my father’s] characteristics which to me seems almost Christ-like is his ability to turn the other cheek, to do good to those who despitefully use him. Many times he has helped the man in his distress who had previously openly criticized him, who had defamed his name and had not lived up to father’s standards. How lenient and tolerant he has been to those who have neglected their Church and turned away from the faith of their fathers. He never seems to bear malice. He is bitter in his denouncement of sin, but to the sinner he is most merciful.”1
Heber J. Grant developed this characteristic gradually, learning from the scriptures, inspired teachers, and his own experiences until he could say, “I have no animosity against any living soul.”2 In an address he gave at the October 1920 general conference, he told of an experience that had helped him cultivate a spirit of forgiveness in his life. The majority of the following teachings are taken from that address.
May God help each and every one of us to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not only a gospel of conversion, but it is a gospel of forgiveness. We have it recorded that though a man’s sins be as scarlet, if he will repent, they shall all be as white as snow [see Isaiah 1:18]. I rejoice in that remarkable revelation which says:
I have given much advice to the Latter-day Saints in my time, and one of the principal items was never to criticize anyone but ourselves. I believe in fault-finding for breakfast, dinner and supper, but only with our own dear selves.4
There is nothing that will bring us more of the Spirit of God than to … be kind, considerate, charitable, long-suffering and forgiving. There is nothing that will bring more joy to us than to be ready and willing to forgive the trespasses of our neighbors against us, and there is nothing that will bring more condemnation to us than to harden our hearts and to be bitter and vindictive in our feelings towards those by whom we are surrounded.5
In section 64:8–13, Doctrine and Covenants, we find the following:
“My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another, and forgave not one another in their hearts, and for this evil they were afflicted, and sorely chastened:
“Wherefore I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another, for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses, standeth condemned before the Lord, for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men;
“And ye ought to say in your hearts, let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
“And he that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, then ye shall bring him before the Church, and do with him as the Scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation.
“And this ye shall do that God may be glorified, not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your Lawgiver.”
And in section 121:45, 46, we read:
“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly, then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God, and the doctrine of the Priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy sceptre an unchanging sceptre of righteousness and truth, and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee for ever and ever.”
I have a very wonderful respect and regard for this quotation from … the Doctrine and Covenants.
Some years ago a prominent man was excommunicated from the Church. He, years later, pleaded for baptism. President John Taylor referred the question of his baptism to the apostles, stating [in a letter] that if they unanimously consented to his baptism, he could be baptized, but that if there was one dissenting vote, he should not be admitted into the Church. As I remember the vote, it was five for baptism and seven against. A year or so later the question came up again and it was eight for baptism and four against. Later it came up again and it was ten for baptism and two against. Finally all of the Council of the Apostles, with the exception of your humble servant, consented that this man be baptized and I was then next to the junior member of the quorum. Later I was in the office of the president and he said:
“Heber, I understand that eleven of the apostles have consented to the baptism of Brother So and So,” naming the man, “and that you alone are standing out. How will you feel when you get on the other side and you find that this man has pleaded for baptism and you find that you have perhaps kept him out from entering in with those who have repented of their sins and received some reward?”
I said, “President John Taylor, I can look the Lord squarely in the eye, if he asks me that question, and tell him that I did that which I thought was for the best good of the kingdom. … I can tell the Lord that [that man] had disgraced this Church enough, and that I did not propose to let any such a man come back into the Church.”
“Well,” said President Taylor, “my boy, that is all right, stay with your convictions, stay right with them.”
I said, “President Taylor, your letter said you wanted each one of the apostles to vote the convictions of his heart. If you desire me to surrender the convictions of my heart, I will gladly do it; I will gladly vote for this man to come back, but while I live I never expect to consent, if it is left to my judgment. That man was accused before the apostles several years ago and he stood up and lied and claimed that he was innocent, and the Lord gave to me a testimony that he lied, but I could not condemn him because of that. I got down on my knees that night and prayed God to give me the strength not to expose that man, seeing that he had lied but that we had no evidence, except only the testimony of the girl that he had seduced. And I prayed the Lord that some day additional testimony might come, and it did come, and we then excommunicated him. And when a man can lie to the apostles, and when he can be guilty while proclaiming repentance of sin, I think this Church has been disgraced enough without ever letting him come back into the Church.”
“Well,” repeated President Taylor, “my boy, don’t you vote as long as you live, while you hold those ideas, stay right with them.”
I left the president’s office. I went home. … I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants through for the third or fourth time systematically, and I had my bookmark in it, but as I picked it up, instead of opening where the bookmark was, it opened to:
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men; but he that forgiveth not his brother standeth condemned before the Lord.” [See D&C 64:9–10.]
And I closed the book and said: “If the devil applies for baptism, and claims that he has repented, I will baptize him.” After lunch I returned to the office of President Taylor and I said, “President Taylor, I have had a change of heart. One hour ago I said, never while I live, did I expect to ever consent that Brother So and So should be baptized, but I have come to tell you he can be baptized, so far as I am concerned.”
President Taylor had a habit, when he was particularly pleased, of sitting up and laughing and shaking his whole body, and he laughed and said, “My boy, the change is very sudden, very sudden. I want to ask you a question. How did you feel when you left here an hour ago? Did you feel like you wanted to hit that man right squarely between the eyes and knock him down?”
I said, “That is just the way I felt.”
He said, “How do you feel now?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, President Taylor, I hope the Lord will forgive the sinner.”
He said, “You feel happy, don’t you, in comparison. You had the spirit of anger, you had the spirit of bitterness in your heart toward that man, because of his sin and because of the disgrace he had brought upon the Church. And now you have the spirit of forgiveness and you really feel happy, don’t you?”
And I said, “Yes I do; I felt mean and hateful and now I feel happy.”
And he said: “Do you know why I wrote that letter?”
I said: “No, sir.”
“Well I wrote it, just so you and some of the younger members of the apostles would learn the lesson that forgiveness is in advance of justice, where there is repentance, and that to have in your heart the spirit of forgiveness and to eliminate from your hearts the spirit of hatred and bitterness, brings peace and joy; that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings joy, peace and happiness to every soul that lives it and follows its teachings.”
And so he went on. I cannot remember all of the teachings, but he continued in this way, telling me that he could never have given me that experience, that he could not give to me a testimony of the gospel; that I must receive that testimony for myself; that I must have the right spirit come into my heart and feel it—the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of long-suffering and charity—before there would any good come to me as an individual; that by simply surrendering my will to his, and voting to baptize this man, I would never have learned the lesson that the spirit of joy and peace comes in the hour of forgiveness, and when our hearts are full of charity and long-suffering to those who have made mistakes. From that day to this I have remembered those teachings.
The Prophet of the Lord [President Taylor] said:
“My boy, never forget that when you are in the line of your duty your heart will be full of love and forgiveness, even for the repentant sinner, and that when you get out of that straight line of duty and have the determination that what you think is justice and what you think is equity and right should prevail, you ofttimes are anything but happy. You can know the difference between the Spirit of the Lord and the spirit of the adversary, when you find that you are happy and contented, that you love your fellows, that you are anxious for their welfare; and you can tell that you do not have that Spirit when you are full of animosity and feel that you would like to knock somebody down.”
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
“Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth:
“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
“Charity never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
“But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
Many people imagine that charity is giving a dollar to somebody; but real, genuine charity is giving love and sympathy, and that is the kind of charity that the apostle had reference to in this 13th chapter of First Corinthians.
I remember that after that teaching given to me as a young man, as a boy, almost, by the President of the Church, I read this chapter about once a week for quite a while, then once a month for several months. I thought I needed it in my business, so to speak; that it was one of the things that were necessary for my advancement.
I remember that a year ago, here at the conference, I read a very splendid and wonderful song, the half of the first verse of which reads as follows:
Let each man learn to know himself,
To gain that knowledge let him labor,
Improve those failings in himself
That he condemns so in his neighbor.
[See “Let Each Man Learn to Know Himself,” Hymns (1948), no. 91]
… I also quoted the four short verses from our hymn [titled “Should You Feel Inclined to Censure”], a part of which reads as follows:
Should you feel inclined to censure
Faults you may in others view,
Ask your own heart, ere you venture,
If that has not failings too.
[See Hymns (1985), no. 235]
I had not the slightest idea when I quoted these poems, that I would desire to quote from them again today; but in view of the condemnation and the spirit, almost, of animosity, and hate that seems to be manifested by some people among the Latter-day Saints, at the present time, regarding business and political affairs, I desire to emphasize, with all the power of my being, the last verse of that little hymn … :
Do not form opinions blindly,
Hastiness to trouble tends,
Those of whom we thought unkindly
Oft become our warmest friends.
[See Hymns (1985), no. 235]. …
I desire to repeat the last verse of [an] excellent hymn, which I learned thirty-five or forty years ago, when Francis M. Lyman [of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles] first sang it for me. I wrote it that very night, and learned it the next day. I would like every Latter-day Saint to apply the teachings of this splendid verse in his or her life, and if we do that I believe we will grow in love and charity; that the spirit of peace and happiness, that President Taylor promised me when I entertained the feeling of determination to keep a man out of the Church, and the spirit of joy and peace which came to me, after the change of heart, will come to Latter-day Saints:
And in self-judgment, if you find
Your deeds to others’ are superior,
To you has Providence been kind,
As you should be to those inferior.
Example sheds a genial ray
Of light, which men are apt to borrow,
So first improve yourself today
And then improve your friends tomorrow.
[See Hymns (1948), no. 91]. …
I beg every Latter-day Saint to cultivate the spirit of charity, of long-suffering, and brotherly love.6
In what ways is the gospel of Jesus Christ a gospel of forgiveness?
Why do we need to forgive others? What are some of the consequences of refusing to forgive?
Why is it sometimes difficult to forgive? What can we do to overcome these difficulties?
In what ways can a person’s forgiving attitude influence those who are being forgiven?
How is forgiveness an expression of charity?