For much of his life Joseph F. Smith witnessed severe persecutions directed at the Church and its members. He was repeatedly harassed by those who opposed the work of the Lord and His Church, and he suffered greatly at their hands. Despite this abuse, he went about his affairs peaceably, not fearing and rarely responding to his enemies—enemies whom he described as “not mine,” but “his whom I am trying to serve.”1
His daughter Edith Eleanor recalled a time from her youth when “the news media was really persecuting my father. Some of the people at school had in their possession false reports and lies about Father. I went home from school furious one day. As soon as Father came in that evening I said to him, ‘Papa, why don’t you do something? You’re not doing one thing, and these mean men are taking advantage of you, printing all these lies, and you don’t do one thing about it!’” Her father looked at her and smiled and said, “‘Baby, don’t get upset. They are not hurting me one bit; they are only hurting themselves. Don’t you know, Baby, that when someone tells a lie they are only hurting themselves more than anyone else?’”2
President Smith was intent on returning good for evil and was so determined to do good that if he learned he had offended another, he could not rest until the wounds were healed. He once said: “Have I done or said anything to hurt you? If I have, I want to say it has been unintentional. I never in my life intentionally hurt the feelings of any individual. … All ye that have been injured by me, all ye whom I have wronged, if there are any such, let me know wherein I have wronged you, and I will do all in my power to make it right with you. I have no malice in my heart toward my brethren; I have only love, charity and an earnest desire to do good.”3
We admonish, we beseech our brothers and sisters, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, not only to honor themselves by a proper course of living, but also to honor and love and be charitable to their neighbors, every one of them. We admonish you not only to keep the greatest of all the commandments that has ever been given of God to man, to love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and mind, and strength, but we exhort you also to observe that second law, next unto it, to love your neighbors as yourselves [see Matthew 22:36–40]; return good for evil, do not revile others because you are or may be reviled. We have no need to tear down the houses of other people (using this expression as a symbol). We are perfectly willing that they should live in the homes they have erected for themselves, and we will try to show them a better way … and build them a better house, and then invite them kindly, in the spirit of Christ, of true Christianity, to enter the better dwelling.4
Brethren and sisters, we want you to be united. We hope and pray that you will go … to your homes feeling in your hearts and from the depths of your souls to forgive one another, and never from this time forth to bear malice toward another fellow creature. I do not care whether he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or not, whether he is a friend or a foe, whether he is good or bad. It is extremely hurtful for any man holding the Priesthood, and enjoying the gift of the Holy Ghost, to harbor a spirit of envy, or malice, or retaliation, or intolerance toward or against his fellowmen. We ought to say in our hearts, let God judge between me and thee, but as for me, I will forgive. I want to say to you that Latter-day Saints who harbor a feeling of unforgiveness in their souls are more guilty and more censurable than the one who has sinned against them. Go home and dismiss envy and hatred from your hearts; dismiss the feeling of unforgiveness; and cultivate in your souls that spirit of Christ which cried out upon the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34.] This is the spirit that Latter-day Saints ought to possess all the day long.5
If I knew there were any who had feelings against me, I would go to them most gladly, and not rest until I visited them and learned wherein I had wronged them. If it can be made to appear that I have actually done something to injure my brother, I will not ask him to come and meet me half way to settle the difficulty—I will go the whole distance myself and do everything in my power to make it right with him. My mission is not to injure, not to do wrong; it is to do good.6
Change the focus of your view, and of your eye, from watching for evil to watching for that which is good, that which is pure, and leading and prompting those who err into that path which has no error in it, and that will not admit of mistakes. Look for good in men, and where they fail to possess it, try to build it up in them; try to increase the good in them; look for the good; build up the good; sustain the good; and speak as little about the evil as you possibly can. It does not do any good to magnify evil, to publish evil, or to promulgate it by tongue or pen. There is no good to be obtained by it. It is better to bury the evil and magnify the good, and prompt all men to forsake evil and learn to do good; and let our mission be to save mankind and to teach and guide in the path of righteousness, and not to sit as judges and pass judgment upon evil-doers, but rather to be saviors of men.7
We need mercy; then let us be merciful. We need charity; let us be charitable. We need forgiveness; let us forgive. Let us do unto others what we would that they should do unto us [see Matthew 7:12].8
Let the Lord God have mercy upon those who seek to hurt the cause of Zion. O God, pity the misguided, the erring, the foolish, the unwise. Put thy Spirit in their hearts, turn them from the error of their ways and from their follies, and bring them back into the way of righteousness and into thy favor. I ask mercy for my enemies—those who lie about me and slander me, and who speak all manner of evil against me falsely. In return, I beseech God my heavenly Father to have mercy upon them; for those who do it, not knowing what they are doing, are only misguided, and those who are doing it with their eyes open certainly need, most of all, the mercy, compassion and pity of God. May God pity them. May he have mercy upon them. I would not harm a hair of their heads, for all I am worth in the world. I would not throw a block in their way to prosperity. No; and I beseech my brethren that they keep hands off the enemies of our people and those who are paving their own road to destruction and will not repent, who are sinning with their eyes open, who know that they are transgressing the laws of God and vilifying and lying against the servants of the Lord. Have mercy upon them. Do not touch them; for that is just what they would like. Let them alone. Let them go.9
I confess it is hard for me to love my enemies—the enemies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—as I love my friends. It is a hard task for me to do. I confess I do not fully do it; it is hard for me; and yet, at times, the Spirit of the Lord will touch and soften my soul so much that I can readily say: I leave judgment in the hands of the Lord.10
Charity towards all and the love of God are demanded of you in the gospel of Christ. The love of your fellow man, the spirit of forgiveness, and of mercy for your fellow beings, are required of you, as was exemplified in the prayer of the Savior upon the cross—“O Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34.] So let us think of our enemies, so let us pray for them, that they may not be entirely lost, but that his saving grace and the saving power of the gospel of Jesus may yet be extended unto them, that their hearts may be touched, that they may repent of their sins and make restitution as far as possible for the wrongs they have done, and come to obedience and be cleansed from their sins, by repentance and baptism for the remission of their sins, by one having authority to administer that holy ordinance.
We love all men. We have nothing against mankind, and will never oppose them so long as they will leave us alone. We do not make war upon the tenets of others; we do not make war upon their churches, nor upon their religious beliefs. It is not our purpose to do it, and it is not any part of our mission to do so, let them worship how or what or where they please. … Our duty is simply to go straight ahead, do our duty, preach the gospel by good example as well as by precept, and let our light so shine upon their understanding that they may see the light as God sees it, and accept it, and walk in it, if they will.11
There are enemies to the work of the Lord, as there were enemies to the Son of God. There are those who speak only evil of the Latter-day Saints. There are those … who will shut their eyes to every virtue and to every good thing connected with this latter-day work, and will pour out floods of falsehood and misrepresentation against the people of God.12
“If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:19) The followers of Jesus were his chosen people, and because they were chosen by him, the world hated them. … Contempt is the heritage of a chosen people. Ought we therefore to court the contempt of the world? By no means. On the other hand, we should not be discouraged because it comes to us unsought.13
I do not believe there ever was a people who were guided by revelation, or acknowledged of the Lord as his people, who were not hated and persecuted by the wicked and the corrupt.14
From the day that the Prophet Joseph Smith first declared his vision until now, the enemy of all righteousness, the enemy of truth, of virtue, of honor, uprightness, and purity of life, the enemy of the only true God, the enemy to direct revelation from God and to the inspirations that come from the heavens to man has been arrayed against this work.15
Personally I have no enemies. My enemies are not mine, they are his whom I am trying to serve! The devil does not care much about me. I am insignificant, but he hates the Priesthood, which is after the order of the Son of God!16
In truth the gospel is carrying us against the stream of passing humanity. We get in the way of purely human affairs and disturb the current of life in many ways and in many places. People who are comfortably located and well provided for, do not like to be disturbed. It angers them. … The Saints are never safe in following the protests and counsels of those who would have us ever and always in harmony with the world. We have our particular mission to perform; and that we may perform it in consonance with divine purposes, we are running counter to the ways of man. We are made unpopular. The contempt of the world is on us.17
Have no fear; slacken not your labors for the truth; live as becometh Saints. You are in the right way, and the Lord will not let your efforts fail. This Church stands in no danger from opposition and persecution from without. There is more to fear in carelessness, sin and indifference, from within; more danger that the individual will fail in doing right and in conforming his life to the revealed doctrines of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If we do the right, all will be well, the God of our fathers will sustain us, and every opposition will tend only to the further spread of the knowledge of truth.18
It is written, and I believe it is true, that although it must needs be that offenses come, woe unto them by whom they come [see Matthew 18:7]; but they are in the hands of the Lord as we are. We bring no railing accusation against them. We are willing to leave them in the hands of the Almighty to deal with them as seemeth him good. Our business is to work righteousness in the earth, to seek for the development of a knowledge of God’s will and of God’s ways, and of his great and glorious truths which he has revealed through the instrumentality of Joseph, the prophet, not only for the salvation of the living but for the redemption and salvation of the dead.19
God will deal with [our enemies] in his own time and in his own way, and we only need to do our duty, keep the faith ourselves, to work righteousness in the world ourselves, and leave the results in the hands of him who overruleth all things for the good of those who love him and keep his commandments.20
We have no ill feelings in our hearts toward any living creature. We forgive those who trespass against us. Those who have spoken evil of us, and who have misrepresented us before the world, we have no malice in our hearts toward them. We say, let God judge between them and us; let him recompense them for their work [see D&C 64:11]. We will not raise a hand against them; but we will extend the hand of fellowship and friendship to them, if they will repent of their sins and come unto the Lord and live. No matter how malicious they may have been, or how foolish they may have acted, if they will repent of it we will receive them with open arms and we will do all we can to help them to save themselves.21
How have you felt when you have forgiven those who have offended you? Why do you think that Latter-day Saints who fail to forgive are more guilty than those who have sinned against them? (See also D&C 64:9–11.)
If we are aware that someone has hard feelings against us, what should we do?
How does “magnify[ing] the good” in other people help us better fulfill “our mission … to save mankind”?
Why are we to have mercy and compassion even for our enemies? What might we include in our prayers for our enemies?
Why may the Saints often experience “the contempt of the world”? How should we react to this contempt? Why does the Church stand “in no danger from opposition and persecution from without”?
When we are hurt by others, why should we be willing to leave their punishment “in the hands of the Almighty”?
How did the Savior treat His enemies? (See Luke 23:34.) How can we follow His example in extending the “hand of fellowship and friendship” to our enemies?