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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 23: “Of You It Is Required to Forgive”

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

If we understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are more disposed to forgive others.

There is one thing that we could well strive to cultivate, and that is, the disposition to forgive one another our trespasses. The spirit of forgiveness is a virtue without which we shall never fully realize the blessings we hope to receive.

The people of the world do not understand … how the Savior felt when in the agony of his soul, he cried to his Heavenly Father, not to condemn and destroy these who were taking his mortal life, but he said: “… Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.)

That should be the attitude of all of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That should be the attitude of all the sons and daughters of God and would be, it seems to me, if they fully understood the plan of salvation. … Anger and hatred in our hearts will not bring us peace and happiness.

I agree in that forgiveness is vital. And when the Christian understands the price Jesus paid on the cross to forgive His people from their sins, it makes it much more bearable for us to forgive those who have wronged us.

When we forgive others, we show appreciation for the forgiveness Heavenly Father extends to us.

At times we find little difficulties arising among us, and we forget the patience our Father in Heaven exercises towards us, and we magnify in our hearts some trivial thing that our brother or sister may have done or said concerning us. We do not always live that law which the Lord desires us to observe in regard to these matters. We forget the commandment He gave to the Apostles in the words of the prayer, wherein they were told to pray that they might be forgiven their debts even as they forgive their debtors [see Matthew 6:12]. I feel that we have to learn a great deal in this regard. We have not complied as completely as we should with the requirements of our Heavenly Father.

By forgiving others, we prepare ourselves for the celestial kingdom.

Let each of us live in such a way that the adversary will have no power over us. If you have any differences one with another, if there have been any disagreements between yourself and your neighbors, settle them just as soon as you possibly can, under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, in order that when the time comes both you and your descendants who may be following after you may be prepared to receive an inheritance in the celestial kingdom.

Here’s the problem: I do not believe that most Mormons do not know if they are truly forgiven. Oh, of course they’ll say they’re forgiven because of Christ’s “atonement,” but in the LDS language, this is nothing more than general resurrection from the dead. Everyone on earth receives this, even non-Mormons. But when it comes to forgiveness of sins, as talked about in the Bible, and qualifying for the best God has in store for His people (in Mormonism, this is exaltation and the Celestial Kingdom), Mormons just don’t know if they have it. In other words, they are unable to claim the promise John gives that we may “know” that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

From our book Answering Mormons’ Questions (Kregel, 2012, 162), we write:

A book was written for Mormon youth by LDS apologist Anthony Sweat, titled I’m Not Perfect. Can I Still Go to Heaven? Citing a 2009 survey that polled 701 Mormon teens ranging from fourteen to eighteen years of age, the study showed that 53 percent believed they would go to the celestial kingdom if they died right then. But an astounding 40 percent believed they would end in the terrestrial kingdom, with the other 7 percent saying they were headed for the telestial kingdom, or outer darkness.

Sweat writes, “These numbers are disheartening to me because the youth who took these surveys appear to be actively engaged in the gospel: regularly attending church and Mutual, serving in Church callings, and enrolling in programs such as seminary and Especially for Youth. These teenagers are the kind of kids who consistently read their scriptures, pray, and try their best to keep the commandments and do what is right. Yet half don’t think they are celestial material.”

Sweat said that the most common answer he received from those thinking they wouldn’t reach the celestial kingdom was, “I have sins and I’m not perfect.” His book was written in an attempt to give the youth assurance that there is “the hope we can all have for the celestial kingdom because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) told of a man who wanted to make sure he had made final spiritual preparations before undergoing “radical surgery.” Kimball wrote, “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.’”

“This Life Is the Time,” Kimball titled chapter 1 in The Miracle of Forgiveness. In a section titled “Dangers of Delay,” he warned church members: “Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings. . . . And the burden of the prophetic warning has been that the time to act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot with impunity delay his compliance with God’s commandments.”

Kimball warned, “This earth life is the time to repent. We cannot afford to take any chances of dying an enemy to God.” He criticized his people for their procrastination: “There are . . . many members of the Church who are lax and careless and who continually procrastinate. They live the gospel casually but not devoutly. They have complied with some requirements but are not valiant. They do no major crime but merely fail to do the things required—things like paying tithing, living the Word of Wisdom, having family prayers, fasting, attending meetings, service. . . . The Lord will not translate one’s good hopes and desires and intentions into works. Each of us must do that for himself.”

There are many requirements. When it comes to tithing, for example, the Mormon Church has emphasized its necessity in relation to repentance and forgiveness. President Kimball gave a First Presidency message in October 1982 where he said, “If one neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant. The Lord knows, as do we, the degree of full and sufficient compliance we make with these fundamental aspects of the law of repentance, which is really God’s law of progress and fulfillment.”

Referring to Kimball’s final point in his “five essential elements of repentance” given in The Miracle of Forgiveness, Apostle Richard G. Scott told a general conference audience, “Full obedience brings the complete power of the gospel into your life with strength to focus on the abandonment of specific sins. It includes things you might not initially consider part of repentance, such as attending meetings, paying tithing, giving service, and forgiving others. The Lord said: “He that repents and does the commands of the Lord shall be forgiven.” Since tithing appears to be one of the essential ingredients for forgiveness, one must wonder what the Mormon should do with the following words from Mormon 8:32: “Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.”

Another Book of Mormon passage, 1 Nephi 3:7, affirms that God gives no commandments to the “children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” If this is true, then we must assume that those Mormons who fail to repent of all of their sins are guilty of squandering their mortal opportunity and indeed have procrastinated their repentance. This is a perilous situation since, as Kimball stated, “Incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness.” In an article written to Mormon youth, Jay E. Jensen, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, said, “Another prerequisite or condition to repentance is to know that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see 1 Ne. 10:21; 1 Ne. 15:34; Alma 7:21; Alma 40:26; and Hel. 8:25). You can hide sins from your bishop, you can hide them from your parents and friends, but if you continue and die with unresolved sins, you are unclean and no unclean thing can dwell with God. There are no exceptions.”

Many Mormons realize the impossibility of this gospel, which can leave a person very depressed.

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