When President Spencer W. Kimball taught about seeking forgiveness, he also emphasized the vital principle of forgiving others. In imploring all people to strive to develop the spirit of forgiveness, he related the following experience:
“I was struggling with a community problem in a small ward … where two prominent men, leaders of the people, were deadlocked in a long and unrelenting feud. Some misunderstanding between them had driven them far apart with enmity. As the days, weeks, and months passed, the breach became wider. The families of each conflicting party began to take up the issue and finally nearly all the people of the ward were involved. Rumors spread and differences were aired and gossip became tongues of fire until the little community was divided by a deep gulf. I was sent to clear up the matter. … I arrived at the frustrated community about 6 p.m., Sunday night, and immediately went into session with the principal combatants.
“How we struggled! How I pleaded and warned and begged and urged! Nothing seemed to be moving them. Each antagonist was so sure that he was right and justified that it was impossible to budge him.
“The hours were passing—it was now long after midnight, and despair seemed to enshroud the place; the atmosphere was still one of ill temper and ugliness. Stubborn resistance would not give way. Then it happened. I aimlessly opened my Doctrine and Covenants again and there before me it was. I had read it many times in past years and it had had no special meaning then. But tonight it was the very answer. It was an appeal and an imploring and a threat and seemed to be coming direct from the Lord. I read [section 64] from the seventh verse on, but the quarreling participants yielded not an inch until I came to the ninth verse. Then I saw them flinch, startled, wondering. Could that be right? The Lord was saying to us—to all of us—‘Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another.’
“This was an obligation. They had heard it before. They had said it in repeating the Lord’s Prayer. But now: ‘… for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord …’
“In their hearts, they may have been saying: ‘Well, I might forgive if he repents and asks forgiveness, but he must make the first move.’ Then the full impact of the last line seemed to strike them: ‘For there remaineth in him the greater sin.’
“What? Does that mean I must forgive even if my antagonist remains cold and indifferent and mean? There is no mistaking it.
“A common error is the idea that the offender must apologize and humble himself to the dust before forgiveness is required. Certainly, the one who does the injury should totally make his adjustment, but as for the offended one, he must forgive the offender regardless of the attitude of the other. Sometimes men get satisfactions from seeing the other party on his knees and grovelling in the dust, but that is not the gospel way.
“Shocked, the two men sat up, listened, pondered a minute, then began to yield. This scripture added to all the others read brought them to their knees. Two a.m. and two bitter adversaries were shaking hands, smiling and forgiving and asking forgiveness. Two men were in a meaningful embrace. This hour was holy. Old grievances were forgiven and forgotten, and enemies became friends again. No reference was ever made again to the differences. The skeletons were buried, the closet of dry bones was locked and the key was thrown away, and peace was restored.”1
Throughout his ministry, President Kimball exhorted Church members to be forgiving: “If there be misunderstandings, clear them up, forgive and forget, don’t let old grievances change your souls and affect them, and destroy your love and lives. Put your houses in order. Love one another and love your neighbors, your friends, the people who live near you, as the Lord gives this power to you.”2
Since forgiveness is an absolute requirement in attaining eternal life, man naturally ponders: How can I best secure that forgiveness? One of many basic factors stands out as indispensable immediately: One must forgive to be forgiven.3
“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
“But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14–15.)
Hard to do? Of course. The Lord never promised an easy road, nor a simple gospel, nor low standards, nor a low norm. The price is high, but the goods attained are worth all they cost. The Lord himself turned the other cheek; he suffered himself to be buffeted and beaten without remonstrance; he suffered every indignity and yet spoke no word of condemnation. And his question to all of us is: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be?” And his answer to us is: “Even as I am.” (3 Ne. 27:27.)4
The command to forgive and the condemnation which follows failure to do so could not be stated more plainly than in this modern revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“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.” (D&C 64:8–10.) …
The lesson stands for us today. Many people, when brought to a reconciliation with others, say that they forgive, but they continue to hold malice, continue to suspect the other party, continue to disbelieve the other’s sincerity. This is sin, for when a reconciliation has been effected and when repentance is claimed, each should forgive and forget, build immediately the fences which have been breached, and restore the former compatibility.
The early disciples evidently expressed words of forgiveness, and on the surface made the required adjustment, but “forgave not one another in their hearts.” This was not a forgiveness, but savored of hypocrisy and deceit and subterfuge. As implied in Christ’s model prayer, it must be a heart action and a purging of one’s mind [see Matthew 6:12; see also verses 14–15]. Forgiveness means forgetfulness. One woman had “gone through” a reconciliation in a branch and had made the physical motions and verbal statements indicating it, and expressed the mouthy words [of] forgiving. Then with flashing eyes, she remarked, “I will forgive her, but I have a memory like an elephant. I’ll never forget.” Her pretended adjustment was valueless and void. She still harbored the bitterness. Her words of friendship were like a spider’s web, her rebuilt fences were as straw, and she herself continued to suffer without peace of mind. Worse still, she stood “condemned before the Lord,” and there remained in her an even greater sin than in the one who, she claimed, had injured her.
Little did this antagonistic woman realize that she had not forgiven at all. She had only made motions. She was spinning her wheels and getting nowhere. In the scripture quoted above, the phrase in their hearts has deep meaning. It must be a purging of feelings and thoughts and bitternesses. Mere words avail nothing.
“For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.” (Moro. 7:8.)
Henry Ward Beecher expressed the thought this way: “I can forgive but I cannot forget is another way of saying I cannot forgive.”
To be in the right we must forgive, and we must do so without regard to whether or not our antagonist repents, or how sincere is his transformation, or whether or not he asks our forgiveness. We must follow the example and the teaching of the Master, who said: “… Ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.” (D&C 64:11.) But men often are unwilling to leave it to the Lord, fearing perhaps that the Lord might be too merciful, less severe than is proper in the case.6
Some people not only cannot or will not forgive and forget the transgressions of others, but go to the other extreme of hounding the alleged transgressor. Many letters and calls have come to me from individuals who are determined to take the sword of justice in their own hands and presume to see that a transgressor is punished. “That man should be excommunicated,” a woman declared, “and I’m never going to rest till he has been properly dealt with.” Another said, “I can never rest, so long as that person is a member of the Church.” Still another said: “I will never enter the chapel so long as that person is permitted to enter. I want him tried for his membership.” One man even made many trips to Salt Lake City and wrote several long letters to protest against the bishop and the stake president who did not take summary disciplinary action against a person who, he claimed, was breaking the laws of the Church.
To such who would take the law into their own hands, we read again the positive declaration of the Lord: “… there remaineth in him the greater sin.” (D&C 64:9.) The revelation continues: “And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.” (D&C 64:11.) When known transgressions have been duly reported to the proper ecclesiastical officers of the Church, the individual may rest the case and leave the responsibility with the Church officers. If those officers tolerate sin in the ranks, it is an awesome responsibility for them and they will be held accountable.7
The Lord will judge with the same measurements meted out by us. If we are harsh, we should not expect other than harshness. If we are merciful with those who injure us, he will be merciful with us in our errors. If we are unforgiving, he will leave us weltering in our own sins.
While the scriptures are plain in their declaration that man shall have meted out to him the same measure that he gives his fellowmen, the meting out even of warranted judgment is not for the layman, but for proper authorities in Church and state. The Lord will do the judging in the final analysis. …
The Lord can judge men by their thoughts as well as by what they say and do, for he knows even the intents of their hearts; but this is not true of humans. We hear what people say, we see what they do, but being unable to discern what they think or intend, we often judge wrongfully if we try to fathom the meaning and motives behind their actions and place on them our own interpretation.8
In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, “Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?”
“Yes,” I said, “but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us.”
“Yes, the Christ forgave those who injured him, but he was more than human,” he rejoined.
And my answer was: “But there are many humans who have found it possible to do this divine thing.”
Apparently there are many who, like this good brother, hold the comfortable theory that the forgiving spirit … is more or less the monopoly of scriptural or fictional characters and can hardly be expected of practical people in today’s world. This is not the case.9
I knew a young mother who lost her husband by death. The family had been in poor circumstances and the insurance policy was only $2,000, but it was like a gift from heaven. The company promptly delivered the check for that amount as soon as proof of death was furnished. The young widow concluded she should save this for emergencies, and accordingly deposited it in the bank. Others knew of her savings, and one kinsman convinced her that she should lend the $2,000 to him at a high rate of interest.
Years passed, and she had received neither principal nor interest. She noticed that the borrower avoided her and made evasive promises when she asked him about the money. Now she needed the money and it could not be had.
“How I hate him!” she told me, and her voice breathed venom and bitterness and her dark eyes flashed. To think that an able-bodied man would defraud a young widow with a family to support! “How I loathe him!” she repeated over and over. Then I told her [a] story, where a man forgave the murderer of his father. She listened intently. I saw she was impressed. At the conclusion there were tears in her eyes, and she whispered: “Thank you. Thank you sincerely. Surely I, too, must forgive my enemy. I will now cleanse my heart of its bitterness. I do not expect ever to receive the money, but I leave my offender in the hands of the Lord.”
Weeks later, she saw me again and confessed that those intervening weeks had been the happiest of her life. A new peace had overshadowed her and she was able to pray for the offender and forgive him, even though she never received back a single dollar.10
Why does the Lord ask you to love your enemies and to return good for evil? That you might have the benefit of it. It does not injure the one you hate so much when you hate a person, especially if he is far removed and does not come in contact with you, but the hate and the bitterness canker your unforgiving heart. …
Perhaps Peter had met people who continued to trespass against him, and he asked:
“Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? …”
And the Lord said:
“I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21–22.) …
… When they have repented and come on their knees to ask forgiveness, most of us can forgive, but the Lord has required that we shall forgive even if they do not repent nor ask forgiveness of us. …
It must be very clear to us, then, that we must still forgive without retaliation or vengeance, for the Lord will do for us such as is necessary. … Bitterness injures the one who carries it; it hardens and shrivels and cankers.11
It frequently happens that offenses are committed when the offender is not aware of it. Something he has said or done is misconstrued or misunderstood. The offended one treasures in his heart the offense, adding to it such other things as might give fuel to the fire and justify his conclusions. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Lord requires that the offended one should make the overtures toward peace.
“And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.” (D&C 42:88.) …
Do we follow that command or do we sulk in our bitterness, waiting for our offender to learn of it and to kneel to us in remorse?12
We may get angry with our parents, or a teacher, or the bishop, and dwarf ourselves into nameless anonymity as we shrivel and shrink under the venom and poison of bitterness and hatred. While the hated one goes on about his business, little realizing the suffering of the hater, the latter cheats himself. …
… To terminate activity in the Church just to spite leaders or to give vent to wounded feelings is to cheat ourselves.13
In the midst of discordant sounds of hate, bitterness and revenge expressed so often today, the soft note of forgiveness comes as a healing balm. Not least is its effect on the forgiver.14
Inspired by the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul has given to us the solution to the problems of life which require understanding and forgiveness. “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32.) If this spirit of kindly, tender-hearted forgiveness of one another could be carried into every home, selfishness, distrust and bitterness which break so many homes and families would disappear and men would live in peace.15
Forgiveness is the miraculous ingredient that assures harmony and love in the home or the ward. Without it there is contention. Without understanding and forgiveness there is dissension, followed by lack of harmony, and this breeds disloyalty in homes, in branches and in wards. On the other hand, forgiveness is harmonious with the spirit of the gospel, with the Spirit of Christ. This is the spirit we must all possess if we would receive forgiveness of our own sins and be blameless before God.16
Frequently, pride gets in our way and becomes our stumbling block. But each of us needs to ask himself the question: “Is your pride more important than your peace?”
All too frequently, one who has done many splendid things in life and made an excellent contribution will let pride cause him to lose the rich reward to which he would be entitled otherwise. We should always wear the sackcloth and ashes of a forgiving heart and a contrite spirit, being willing always to exercise genuine humility, as did the publican [see Luke 18:9–14], and ask the Lord to help us to forgive.17
So long as mortality exists we live and work with imperfect people; and there will be misunderstandings, offenses, and injuries to sensitive feelings. The best of motives are often misunderstood. It is gratifying to find many who, in their bigness of soul have straightened out their thinking, swallowed their pride, forgiven what they had felt were personal slights. Numerous others who have walked critical, lonely, thorny paths in abject misery, have finally accepted correction, acknowledged errors, cleansed their hearts of bitterness, and have come again to peace, that coveted peace which is so conspicuous in its absence. And the frustrations of criticism, bitterness, and the resultant estrangements have given place to warmth and light and peace.18
It can be done. Man can conquer self. Man can overcome. Man can forgive all who have trespassed against him and go on to receive peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.19
If we would sue for peace, taking the initiative in settling differences—if we would forgive and forget with all our hearts—if we would cleanse our own souls of sin, bitterness, and guilt before we cast a stone or accusation at others—if we would forgive all real or fancied offenses before we asked forgiveness for our own sins—if we would pay our own debts, large or small, before we pressed our debtors—if we would manage to clear our own eyes of the blinding beams before we magnified the motes in the eyes of others—what a glorious world this would be! Divorce would be reduced to a minimum; courts would be freed from disgusting routines; family life would be heavenly; the building of the kingdom would go forward at an accelerated pace; and that peace which passeth understanding [see Philippians 4:7] would bring to us all a joy and happiness that has hardly “entered into the heart of man.” [See 1 Corinthians 2:9.]20
May the Lord bless us all that we may continually carry in our hearts the true spirit of repentance and forgiveness until we shall have perfected ourselves, looking toward the glories of exaltation awaiting the most faithful.21
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
Review the story on pages 89–91. Why is it sometimes so difficult for people to forgive one another? What do the words “For there remaineth in him the greater sin” (D&C 64:9) mean to you?
Review Matthew 6:14–15, quoted by President Kimball on page 92. Why do you think we must forgive others in order to receive the Lord’s forgiveness?
What are some attitudes and actions that indicate our forgiveness of another is heartfelt and complete? (See pages 92–94.) Why must forgiveness be “a heart action”?
Review the section that begins on page 94. What gospel teachings can help us be willing to leave judgment to the Lord?
As you read the story about the young mother on pages 96–97, look for what prevented her, at first, from forgiving and what enabled her to finally forgive. How can we overcome the obstacles that interfere with our desires and efforts to forgive others?
What are some consequences of refusing to forgive? (See pages 97–98.) What blessings have you experienced as you have forgiven another? Consider how you might apply the spirit of forgiveness in your relationships.