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A closer look at Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness

By Eric Johnson

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Perhaps you are someone who has received a copy of this book from me in a public venue. I am often ask why I do this. My answer? I think every Latter-day Saint ought to read this important work for themselves. It lays out the traditional LDS position that true repentance brings forgiveness, but this repentance is a complete forsaking of all sins. To support my case, I invite you to check out this 1974 letter written by Bishop Calvin W. Jackson who wrote the following to the Holladay 13th Ward Bishopric, “Many difficult and soul-searching questions and problems facing today’s individual about the saving power of Jesus Christ are explained therein.” To see the letter, click here

Allow me to give some background to this book and by the end of this article you will hopefully understand my motive for why I have handed out more than 1,000 copies of this book since 2014 all across Utah and the United States.

Introduction to The Miracle of Forgiveness

In 1969, then-Mormon Apostle Spencer W. Kimball wrote a book addressed to his people titled The Miracle of Forgiveness. Later, Kimball became Mormonism’s twelfth president. For many years, this book has been widely read by the membership and even recommended at general conferences. In fact, it was voted by Goodreads as #5 of “Best LDS non-ficton,” and two of the books in front of MOF were the Book of Mormon (#1) and the King James Version of the Bible (#3)! 

In a website article titled “The Story of The Miracle of Forgiveness,” Scott Woodward, a faithful Latter-day Saint, provides some background to how this book came to be written:

For years he had said he intended to write no book, that there were books enough by others who had more talent. And for fifteen years he stuck by that resolve, despite the urgings of many who wanted him to write. Numerous addresses at general conference and at BYU had been reprinted, sometimes in thousands of copies, but they had been written as speeches and not as books. The experience which impelled him finally to write a book was the day-by-day counseling of people in trouble, the week-by-week interviewing of members being considered for responsible Church positions, the interviewing of missionaries as he toured the missions.

Kimball spent more than a decade putting the book together. Referencing his father’s presidential predecessor, Edward Kimball wrote in a biography on his dad:

Elder Kimball passed the manuscript to Harold B. Lee, who pleased and embarrassed him by praising it in a meeting of the Twelve. Elder Lee said that on the basis of the half he had read “it was factual and heavily documented and adequate and covered the field beautifully.” [Fellow Apostle] Delbert L. Stapley, who had read the manuscript, echoed those sentiments” (Spencer W. Kimball: The Early and Apostolic Years, p. 384)

 In the preface to the church manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, it reads:

In addition to numerous addresses, he [Kimball] authored the book The Miracle of Forgiveness. This book arose from Elder Kimball’s long experience as an Apostle, counseling those who had yielded to serious transgression. In the book he outlined the Lord’s expectations of us, our divine potential, and the pathway we must follow to repent and obtain the assurance of complete divine forgiveness. (xxiv)

According to Edward Kimball,

[T]he book filled a need, as evidenced by the printing of half a million copies in English and sixteen other languages between its publication in 1969 and his death in 1985 . . . . .By 1998 the total in all languages was roughly estimated at 1.6 million copies. (Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005, 79).

President Thomas S. Monson, who served as a member of the First Presidency under Kimball, wrote,

President Spencer W. Kimball has always been a prolific worker. He spent several summers working on a book which he later entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness. As one reads the book, particularly the first portion, one wonders if anyone will make it to the Celestial Kingdom. However, in reading the final portion, it is apparent that, with effort, all can qualify” (Thomas S. Monson, On the Lord’s Errand: The Memoirs of Thomas S. Monson, 1985, p. 342).

Other leaders and church publications have also offered up great praise for this book and its portrayal of Mormon “doctrine.” For example:

Apostle Richard L. Evans (the year after its publication): “Many of you would be familiar with President Spencer Kimball’s wonderful work on the miracle of forgiveness. I witness to you that God is a loving Father who will forgive and help us find peace and self-respect as we repent and show our sincerity by the lives we live. And there is nothing he asks of us that we cannot do; there is no requirement we cannot keep-if we are willing, if we want to. Repentance is a miracle, if it is sincere” (Confer­ence Reports, April 1970, p. 16).

Seventy Bruce C. Hafen: “Some of us make repentance too easy, and others make it too hard. Those who make it too easy don’t see any big sins in their lives, or they believe that breezy apologies alone are enough. These people should read President Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, which reviews many sins of both commission and omis­sion. And while forgiveness is a miracle, it is not won without penitent and strenuous effort” (“Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Liahona, April 1997, p. 41).

Apostle Richard G. Scott: “In The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball gives a superb guide to forgiveness through repentance. It has helped many find their way back” (“Finding Forgiveness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1995, p. 76).

He also said in the October 2000 General Conference, “I suggest that you read President Spencer W. Kimball’s inspired book The Miracle of Forgiveness. It continues to help the faithful avoid the pitfalls of serious transgression. It likewise is an excellent handbook for those who have committed serious errors and want to find their way back. Read the last two chapters first to appreciate the full miracle of forgiveness before reading anything else” (“The Path to Peace and Joy,” Ensign, November 2000, p. 26).

Apostle Boyd K. Packer said, “President Kimball himself is an experienced surgeon of sorts. Not a doctor of medicine, but a doctor of spiritual well-being. Many a moral cancer has been excised, many a blemish of character has been removed, many a spiritual illness of one kind or another has been cured through his efforts. Some on the verge of spiritual oblivion have been rescued by him. He has written a book—literally years in preparation—The Miracle of Forgiveness. Many have been protected by the counsel he has written. Countless others have been inspired to set their lives in order and have experienced that miracle” (Ensign, Mar. 1974, 5)” (Presidents of the Church Student Manual Religion 345, p. 209).

An LDS Church manual states, “If available, hold up a copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness, and tell students that reading it has helped many people feel the merciful forgiveness of the Lord” (Presidents of the Church Teacher Manual Religion 345, p. 172).

From a church manual: “President Kimball taught extensively the principle of repentance. His teachings have positively influenced many. Elder Boyd K. Packer recognized this great influence and wrote the following: ‘President Kimball himself is an experienced surgeon of sorts. Not a doctor of medicine, but a doctor of spiritual well-being. Many a moral cancer has been excised, many a blemish of character has been removed, many a spiritual illness of one kind or another has been cured through his efforts. Some on the verge of spiritual oblivion have been rescued by him. He has written a book—literally years in preparation—The Miracle of Forgiveness. Many have been protected by the counsel he has written. Countless others have been inspired to set their lives in order and have experienced that miracle’ (Ensign, Mar. 1974, 5)” (Presidents of the Church Student Manual Religion 345, 2003, p. 209).

Ezra Taft Benson became the 13th president when Kimball passed away. He too was a fan:

“In clearing our channels and keeping them clear, we would admonish all of you to read and reread President Spencer W. Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness. The sooner you can read it, the greater blessing it will be for you” (Ezra Taft Benson, Sermons and Writings of President Ezra Taft Benson, p. 250).

“Repentance was the cry of our late and great prophet, Spencer W. Kimball. This theme permeated his talks and the pages of his writings, such as his marvelous book The Miracle of Forgiveness. And it must be our cry today, both to member and to nonmember alike—repent” (Ezra Taft Benson, Sermons and Writings of President Ezra Taft Benson, p. 281).

If these are not enough, a 2006 church manual compiling Kimball’s teachings was published and all members were supposed to read it throughout 2007. Titled Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, the editors for this manual referenced The Miracle of Forgiveness in the historical summary and cited the book 22 times in chapter 4, which was titled “The Miracle of Forgiveness.” In the church manual’s end notes, The Miracle of Forgiveness is quoted 69 times, which makes up an incredible 12 percent of all citations found in the manual!

Also consider that under Spencer W. Kimball’s portrait located on the second floor of the Church History Museum (across the street from Temple Square in Salt Lake City) is a hard copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness on display! Surely, this is a tacit endorsement of the book.

Finally, in 1998 the First Presidency gave out special bound editions of the book to employees and general authorities of the church with this explanation included on a card inside the book:

“We are pleased to present to you this classic edition of President Spencer W. Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness. President Kimball’s enlightening teachings on the Atonement of Jesus Christ are a precious treasure for all who would follow the Savior.”

With more than two million copies that have been printed, there is no doubt that most faithful Mormons have at least heard of this book. While many Millennials or Generation Z have only seen it on their parents’ bookshelves, I believe the vast majority of Latter-day Saints over 35 have first-hand knowledge about this book. While I do not agree with almost all of Kimball’s doctrinal opinions, I do think he does an excellent job describing what is required for the followers of this religion, as he properly exegetes (interprets) the passages from his unique Standard Works. When it comes to verses from the Bible, however, I think he does read personal presuppositions into passages and, by doing so, corrupts their meaning.

Still, I think every Latter-day Saint ought to read this book. With this as a background, let’s take a closer look at Kimball’s words and see why his instruction is so difficult to follow.

The Nike Spokesman before Nike

The title of the first chapter makes it very clear what Spencer W. Kimball thought about the possibility of keeping God’s commandments. The title? “This Life Is the Time.”

On page 7, Kimball likens salvation to a train fare or a tuition payment. He stated that “God’s eternal rewards will similarly be dependent upon man’s compliance with the required conditions.” Procrastination is not allowed. As Kimball writes,

One Church member of my acquaintance said, as she drank her coffee: [a no-no according to the Word of Wisdom] “The Lord knows my heart is right and that I have good intentions, and that I will someday get the strength to quit.” But will one receive eternal life on the basis of his good intentions? Can one enter a country, receive a scholastic degree, and so on, on the strength of good intent unsupported by appropriate action? Samuel Johnson remarked that “hell is paved with good intentions.” The Lord will not translate one’s good hopes and desires and intentions into works. Each of us must do that for himself. (p. 8)

Citing Joseph Smith, Kimball writes on page 248, “While in this probation and in this life certainly means the period of our mortal lives.” Under a section on page 313 he wrote this:

I have referred previously to the significance of this life in the application of repentance but will emphasize it here in relation to the eventual judgment. One cannot delay repentance until the next life, the spirit world, and there prepare properly for the day of judgment while the ordinance work is done for him vicariously on earth. It must be remembered that vicarious work for the dead is for those who could not do the work for themselves. Men and women who live in mortality and who have heard the gospel here have had their day, their seventy years to put their lives in harmony, to perform the ordinances, to repent and to perfect their lives.

At the beginning of each chapter, Kimball cites from one of the four LDS scriptures. In this chapter, he quoted Alma 34:32, which says, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God.”

On pages 9 and 10, he writes,

Because men are prone to postpone action and ignore directions, the Lord has repeatedly given strict injunctions and issued solemn warnings. Again and again in different phraseology and throughout the centuries the Lord has reminded man so that he could never have excuse. 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.

He then quotes all of Alma 34:21-34 to support the case that no works can be accomplished outside this life. In summary, these verses show how:

  • “now is the time and the day of your salvation”
  • “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God”
  • “the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors”
  • “after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed”

Kimball doesn’t continue to verse 35, but perhaps he should have. It says,

35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

According to Amulek, those who “procrastinate the day of (their) repentance” are “subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his.” What discouraging words! This is why Kimball can say that “it thus becomes the overall responsibility of man to cooperate fully with the Eternal God in accomplishing this objective (p. 2)

Kimball makes a distinction between sins of commission (doing the wrong thing) and omission (not doing the right thing). Both are just as wrong, he said.  He wrote on pages 94-96:

The covenants we make with God involve promises to do, not merely to refrain from doing, to work righteousness as well as to avoid evil. . . . . In the baptismal waters we give a similar undertaking and we repledge it in the ordinance of the sacrament. Not to honor these pledges, to refuse to serve or to accept responsibility and do less than one’s best at it, is a sin of omission. . . Melchizedek priesthood holders and those who have received their temple endowments have made further and specific pledges to do, to work righteousness. . . One breaks the priesthood covenant by transgressing commandments–but also by leaving undone his duties. Accordingly, to break this covenant one needs only to do nothing. (Also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 127.)

Referring to the evil people who rejected God’s message during the days of Noah and would never get another chance, Kimball explained,

Too late! The terrestrial for them! It could have been the celestial, and it could have been exaltation! But they procrastinated the day of their preparation. The same lamentable cry of “Too late!” will apply to many of today’s Church members who did not heed the warning. . . . The Lord’s program is unchangeable. His laws are immutable. They will not be modified. Your opinion or mine does not alter the laws. Many in the world, and even some in the Church, seem to think that eventually the Lord will be merciful and give them the unearned blessing. But the Lord cannot be merciful at the expense of justice. (p. 249)

In other words, the Latter-day Saint is commanded to be successful in the abandonment of sin in this life, not the next. This is why I call Spencer W. Kimball the Nike spokesman even before there was such a thing as Nike shoes and clothing. The motto for Nike is “Just Do It,” and Kimball wanted everyone to know that they needed to “do it” (i.e., everything commanded in Mormonism) in this lifetime.

No Unclean Thing Can Enter

At the beginning of chapter 2, Kimball quotes from the Pearl of Great Price. Moses 6:57 reads,

. . . All men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence . . .

How did Kimball interpret this verse? He writes at the bottom of page 19,

But to God who is perfection, cleanliness means moral and personal cleanliness. Less than that is, in one degree or another, uncleanliness and hence cannot dwell with God.

On page 25 Kimball laid out more than 80 sins that he said needed to be abandoned:

Murder, adultery, theft, cursing, unholiness in masters, disobedience in servants, unfaithfulness, improvidence, hatred of God, disobedience to husbands, lack of natural affection, high-mindedness, flattery, lustfulness, infidelity, indiscretion, backbiting, whispering, lack of truth, striking, brawling, quarrelsomeness, unthankfulness, inhospitality, deceitfulness, irreverence, boasting, arrogance, pride, double-tongued talk, profanity, slander, corruptness, thievery, embezzlement, despoiling, covenant-breaking, incontinence, filthiness, ignobleness, filthy communications, impurity, foolishness, slothfulness, impatience, lack of understanding, unmercifulness, idolatry, blasphemy, denial of the Holy Ghost, Sabbath breaking, envy, jealousy, malice, maligning, vengefulness, implacability, bitterness, clamor, spite, defiling, reviling, evil speaking, provoking, greediness for filthy lucre, disobedience to parents, anger, hate, covetousness, bearing false witness, inventing evil things, fleshliness, heresy, presumptuousness, abomination, insatiable appetite, instability, ignorance, self-will, speaking evil of dignitaries, becoming a stumbling block; and in our modern language, masturbation, petting, fornication, adultery, homosexuality; and every sex perversion, every hidden and secret sin and all unholy and impure practices.

In case anyone thought the absence of a particular sin meant there was freedom to commit it, Kimball added a postscript:

These are transgressions the Lord has condemned through his servants. Let no one rationalize his sins on the excuse that a particular sin of his is not mentioned nor forbidden in scripture.

Anyone who reads this list will surely find 3, 5, 10, or more sins that they personally battle. The Bible agrees with this assessment, stating in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God.” This, Paul adds in Romans 6:23, will end in “eternal death.” The solution? Kimball spends plenty of time in his book detailing the plan according to Mormonism.

Many Mormons apparently think their baptism and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be sufficient for admittance to the Celestial Kingdom. According to Kimball, such an attitude is wrong! He wrote,

It is true that many Latter-day Saints, having been baptized and confirmed members of the Church, and some even having received their endowments and having been married and sealed in the holy temple, have felt that they were thus guaranteed the blessings of exaltation and eternal life. But this is not so. There are two basic requirements every soul must fulfill or he cannot attain to the great blessings offered. He must receive the ordinances and he must be faithful, overcoming his weaknesses. Hence, not all who claim to be Latter-day Saints will be exalted. (p. 9. This is also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 9)

Keeping promises

All people are commanded to keep the commandments and do the right things. In the end, there will be many Mormons who think they are doing everything necessary but end up being “disappointed,” as Kimball writes on page 246:

Exaltation is available only to righteous members of the Church of Jesus Christ; only to those who accept the gospel; only to those who have their endowments in holy temples of God and have been sealed for eternity and who then continue to live righteously throughout their lives. Numerous members of the Church will be disappointed. All will fail of these blessing who fail to live worthy lives, even though the temple ordinances have been done for them.

How many Latter-day Saints have shown disdain for this book! Perhaps it’s because Kimball calls them out of their comfort zone. After all, he wrote this book for those Mormons who might not have paid much attention to keeping the whole law. If they had their temple recommend cards in possession, what more did they need? On page 57, Kimball describes what it means to be a “covenantbreaker”:

Akin to many of the other sins is that of the covenant-breaker. The person baptized promises to keep all the laws and commandments of God. He has partaken of the sacrament and re-pledged his allegiance and his fidelity, promising and covenanting that he will keep all God’s laws. Numerous folks have gone to the temples and have recovenanted that they would live all the commandments of God, keep their lives clean, devoted, worthy, and serviceable. Yet many there are who forget their covenants and break the commandments, sometimes deliberately tempting the faithful away with them.

Referencing these same Latter-day Saints, Kimball cites D&C 76 on pages 248 and 249 before writing,

Too late! The terrestrial (kingdom) for them! It could have been the celestial, and it could have been exaltation! But they procrastinated the day of their preparation. The same lamentable cry of “Too late!” will apply to many of today’s Church members who did not heed the warning but who proceeded–sometimes carelessly, sometimes defiantly–to bind themselves through mortality to those who could not or would not prepare for the blessings which were in reserve for them. The Lord’s program is unchangeable. His laws are immutable. They will not be modified. Your opinion or mine does not alter the laws. Many in the world, and even some in the Church, seem to think that eventually the Lord will be merciful and give them the unearned blessing. But the Lord cannot be merciful at the expense of justice.

If you are a Latter-day Saint, is it possible this LDS General Authority might be talking about you who might end up “disappointed” in the end? Are you someone who keeps breaking covenants—making promises to God regularly at sacrament services and in the temple —by disobeying commandments and failing to live up to your end of the bargain? As the July 2012 Ensign magazine explains the bargain:

A covenant is a two-way promise, the conditions of which are set by God. When we enter into a covenant with God, we promise to keep those conditions. He promises us certain blessings in return. When we receive these saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants, the Atonement of Jesus Christ becomes effective in our lives, and we can receive the great blessing God can give us—eternal life (see D&C 14:7). Because keeping our covenants is essential to our happiness now and to eventually receiving eternal life, it is important to understand what we have promised our Heavenly Father (“Understanding our Covenants with God,” Ensign, July 2012, p. 22).

Most Latter-day Saints understand how difficult (even impossible) it is to keep their promises made to God to obey all covenants, as D&C 25:15 says this must be done “continually.” It doesn’t matter how difficult it might be, though, for anyone who breaks covenants is still called a “covenantbreaker” by Kimball. Still, I have found that many Latter-day Saints have ready-made answers (excuses) that go something like this:

  1. This is what repentance is for
  2. I’m trying
  3. I’d doing my best

Perhaps you’ve used these at times in your life. Are these good excuses for not keeping covenants by breaking commandments?

The Meaning of Repentance

That first response I so often get when speaking to Latter-day Saints about this issue is “that’s what repentance is for.” It’s almost like a “Get out of Jail Free” card that we see in Monopoly. Unfortunately for those using this excuse, Kimball did not recognize it. He explained on page 203:

Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails I his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen.  A reforming adulterer who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting adultery who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting burglar who has sex play is not ready for forgiveness. God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life. (Also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 43.)

Desire, he says, “is not sufficient. There is no “real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his way and started on a new path.” (163) As Seventy John B. Dickson put it,

Simply feeling remorseful is not repentance. True repentance leads to a new and righteous pattern of life. (“After the Manner of Happiness,” Ensign, February 2008, p. 17).

Of course, Kimball talks about repentance, saying that because “no unclean thing can enter” God’s presence (p. 19), repentance is necessary. However, Kimball explained that “there is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin.” (Also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 39.) To support his case, he quoted D&C 58:43, which says, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.” Therefore, true repentance ends with the person stopping the sin. Kimball makes this very clear in a 1984 tract titled “Repentance Brings Forgiveness” that was published by the church as “an adaptation of an address given to students at Brigham Young University, May 4, 1954.”  Under the section “abandonment of sin,” he cited D&C 58:43 and wrote, “The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.” He then cited several verses, including D&C 82:7, which says, “The Lord said: ‘Go your ways and sin no more, but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return.'”

The “I’m Trying” and “I’m Doing My Best” Excuses

The second and third excuses (“I’m trying” and “I’m doing my best”) are also common responses when I ask Latter-day Saints who have read Kimball’s book if they are doing everything that Kimball said they were supposed to do.

Under the subheading “Trying is Not Sufficient,” he wrote,

Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin. To try with a weakness of attitude and effort is to assure failure in the face of Satan’s strong counteracting efforts. What is needed is resolute action. (p. 164)

Kimball provides a poignant story on page 164 to explain what he meant:

An army officer called a soldier to him and ordered him to take a message to another officer. The soldier saluted and said, “I’ll try, sir! I’ll try!” to this the officer responded: “I don’t want you to try, I want you to deliver this message.” The soldier, somewhat embarrassed, now replied: “I’ll do the best I can, sir.” At this the officer, now disgusted, rejoined with some vigor: “I don’t want you to try and I don’t want you to ‘do the best you can.’ I want you to deliver this message.” Now the young soldier, straightening to his full height, approached the matter magnificently, as he thought, when he saluted again and said: “I’ll do it or die, sir.” To this the now irate officer responded: “I don’t want you to die, and I don’t want you merely to do the best you can, and I don’t want you to try. Now, the request is a reasonable one; the message is important; the distance is not far; you are able-bodied; you can do what I have ordered. Now get out of here and accomplish your mission.

He explained on pages 164-65:

It is normal for children to try. They fall and get up numerous times before they can be certain of their footing. But adults, who have gone through these learning periods, must determine what they will do, then proceed to do it. To “try” is weak. To “do the best I can” is not strong. We must always do better than we can. This is true in every walk of life.

On page 165 Kimball referred to the adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11, questioning whether or not Jesus could bestow forgiveness on the woman. According to Kimball,

But did the Lord forgive the woman? Could he forgive her? There seems to be no evidence of forgiveness. His command to her was, ‘Go and sin no more.’ He was directing the sinful woman to go her way, abandon her evil life, commit no more sin, transform her life. He was saying, Go, woman, and start your repentance; and he was indicating to her the beginning step—to abandon her transgressions.

Kimball took this passage out of its context. He did forgive her–otherwise why would He have said “neither do I condemn you”–and merely told her to go and get her life in order. Isn’t that the sequence in the Bible? Forgiveness is given by God, and then the person works on his or her sinful lifestyle. Anyone who tries to fix the sinful lifestyle first by doing everything that Kimball said must be done will never arrive at that point. Yet Kimball taught that to think that “forgiveness” can come about by asking God is a ridiculous notion, as he explained on pages 324-325,

Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

Kimball quoted from Alma 11:37 (“Ye cannot be saved in your sins”) and made the following comment on page 166,

The Lord cannot save men in their sins but only from their sins, and that only when they have shown true repentance. . . . We may be sure that the Savior’s instructions to the thief on the cross were comparable to his instructions to the woman caught in adultery: “Go your way and transform yourself and repent.”

Overcoming: The requirement for forgiveness

In Mormonism, the word “forgiveness” is oftentimes used–just consider the title of Kimball’s book! But is there ever a time when a Latter-day Saint could claim forgiveness of all sins? The answer is no, as Kimball said that “forgiveness (is) cancelled on reversion to sin.” He wrote:

Old sins return, says the Lord in his modern revelations. Many people either do not know this or they conveniently forget it. “Go your ways and sin no more,” the Lord warned. And again, “. . . Unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” (D&C 82:7) . . . . Thus when a man has made up his mind to change his life, there must be no turning back. Any reversal, even in a small degree, is greatly to his detriment. (pp. 169-70)

He explained,

To return to sin is most destructive to the morale of the individual and gives Satan another hand-hold on his victim. Those who feel that they can sin and be forgiven and then return to sin and be forgiven again and again must straighten out their thinking. Each previously forgiven sin is added to the new one and the whole gets to be a heavy load. (170)

In chapter 15 (“Keeping God’s Commandments Brings Forgiveness”), he said that a “repentant life seeks perfection,” writing on pages 208-9,

Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.

“Perfection,” he added on page 210, “really comes through overcoming” and

only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality.

The individual must act on his own accord and attain this state:

The Spirit is powerless to compel a man to move. The man himself must take the initiative. He must himself desire to repent and take the specific steps. . . . Without such effort repentance too is incomplete. And incomplete repentance never brought complete forgiveness. (p. 212)

According to Kimball’s argumentation, some may protest and say that achieving this is impossible, a lofty ideal only available to the untouchable saints. Balderdash, says Kimball in a section he titled “It can be done,” as he likened those who can obtain forgiveness as “supermen” on page 286:

“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.” (Also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 96.)

If you are a Latter-day Saint, are you the “superman” to whom he refers? In fact, the only “Man” I know who even stands a chance has a name beginning with J and He’s known as “Christ” or “Messiah.” To think any other human could do what Kimball taught is an impossible notion. I don’t believe that even this church president was able to accomplish the impossible commands he gave.

Doing good works in the next life

As we talked about earlier, some Latter-day Saints make it appear that, somehow, it will be possible in the next life to finish the necessary work of “perfection.” This idea is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the twelfth LDS president. For instance, on page 315 Kimball writes,

The terrestrial kingdom will not be enjoyed by the very wicked, for they shall obtain only the telestial. Neither will the terrestrial be given to the valiant, the faithful, the perfected, for they will go into the celestial kingdom prepared for those who live the celestial laws. But into the terrestrial will go those who do not measure up to the celestial. Speaking of one category of terrestrial people, the Lord says: “These are they who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kingdom of our God.” (D&C 76:79.) The “unvaliant” Latter-day Saint will find himself there. It is true that repentance is always worth while. But spirit world repentance cannot recompense for that which could and should have been done on earth.

The answer is doing the work now. Kimball explains on page 321,

Fortunately, we have time to pay off our debts before that awesome day of judgment arrives. By repenting now, in this life, and living a life of righteousness thereafter, we can appear before God clean and holy.

What is frightening is what Kimball says on page 325 regarding forgiveness:

It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes.

I don’t know about you, but while I may very well have weeks ahead of me, it is doubtful I have many “years” (let alone “centuries”!) left. (And even if I did have centuries, is there any way I could still fix myself?) What about you? How much time is there left?

Read the rest of the book

I have been told more than once that I need to read the rest of Kimball’s book and then I will see “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey used to say) and understand how “God will forgive” (the title of chapter 22). I find it fascinating that Kimball’s presidential predecessor, Harold B. Lee, only read half the book and claimed “it was factual and heavily documented and adequate and covered the field beautifully” (Spencer W. Kimball: The Early and Apostolic Years, p. 384).

I have read the “rest” of Kimball’s book–six times now. I would like to be directed to the section that supposedly nullifies the rest of the book and offers any type of realistic hope. For instance, Kimball described a woman he once knew who had confessed how she had committed adultery. His reply to her?

“My dear sister, you do not know the scriptures. You do not know the power of God nor his goodness. You can be forgiven for this heinous sin, but it will take much sincere repentance to accomplish it.” . . . I reminded her of the Lord’s words in our own dispensation to the effect that whoever repents and obeys God’s commandments will be forgiven. (D&C 1:32.)  My visitor looked bewildered but seemed to be yearning as though she wanted to believe it. I continued: “Eventually forgiveness will come for all but the unpardonable sins to that transgressor who repents sorely enough, long enough, sincerely enough.”

Kimball then quoted D&C 58:42, which says,

Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.

Of course, he failed to quote verse 43 (which he had quoted earlier at the beginning of chapter 12). According to this verse, how can it be known if someone truly repents of sins? “Behold,” it says, “he will confess them and forsake them.” On page 343, he quotes D&C 1:32-33:

Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; and he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received. (This is also quoted on page 201)

Yes, there is “forgiveness of sins” in Mormonism, but only through complete obedience to God’s commandments! This is the message taught throughout The Miracle of Forgiveness. The role of Jesus and His payment on the cross is all for naught to the person who fails to do what he or she has been commanded. Kimball wrote on page 145:

When we think of the great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sufferings he enduring for us, we would be ingrates if we did not appreciate it so far as our power made it possible. He suffered and died for us, yet if we do not repent, all his anguish and pain on our account are futile. (Quoted on page 29 of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 29)

He also wrote,

Setting the will is the key. There must be resoluteness and determination. Discontinuance of sin must be permanent. The will to do must be strong and kept strengthened. (176)

How can a person know that forgiveness has been obtained? It’s quite simple, as chapter 15 announces that “keeping God’s commandments brings forgiveness.” Based on D&C 1:31-32 (“he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven”), Kimball said this involves the following process:

First, one repents. Having gained that ground he then must then live the commandments of the Lord to retain his vantage point. This is necessary to secure complete forgiveness. (Also quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 43.)

It seems straightforward and simple. Repent. Keep the commandments (continually, as D&C 25:15 says). Receive forgiveness.

Glad that is cleared up. So we see, the price of admission to the forgiveness party is complete (not partial) obedience. But there’s more, as Kimball said that even the urge to sin must be purged. Quoting Alma 13:11-12, Kimball explained on pages 354-55 that

repentance which merits forgiveness . . . is that the former transgressor must have reached a “point of no return” to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin—where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life.

This, he says “is what is meant, in part at least, by being pure in heart!” Joseph Smith apparently “gave assurance that the totally repentant one will see the Lord; and this means forgiveness, for only the pure in heart will see God.” He quoted D&C 93:1, which says,

Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.

While Kimball did say “the Lord will indeed forgive,” he added that “he will not tolerate repetitions of the sin.” He then quoted Ether 2:15:

. . . And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe, ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. . . .

Finally, Kimball writes these hard-to-fathom words:

We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect repeated forgiveness.

He once again quoted D&C 82:7, which has these words that provided comforting words to no one:

And now, verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.

Where is the promise of forgiveness through the grace of God, as the Bible has declared for some 2,000 years? It is nowhere to be found.

The Straw Man argument

An informal logical fallacy called the “straw man argument” thrives on inventing the opponent’s position and then crushing this fictional argumentation. (We get accused regularly of practicing this.) If the position that is offered by the opponent differs in good measure from what the original argument teaches, then it is not a worthy argument.

Kimball creates this fallacy when he described Christianity’s view of grace and forgiveness. After referencing Ephesians 2:8-9 (“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, let any man should boast.”), Kimball wrote on page 206-7:

One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation. Along with all the other works necessary for man’s exaltation in the kingdom of God this could rule out the need for repentance. It could give license for sin and, since it does not require man to work out his salvation, could accept instead lip service, death-bed “repentance,” and shallow, meaningless confession of sin.

Referring to “the gracious gift of salvation offered on condition of obedience,” Kimball then quoted 2 Nephi 25:23, which says that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” So many times I have heard Mormons suggest that accepting grace for salvation (and minimizing good works) will lead to licentiousness and a free-for-all sinfest. (Check out this article for how 2 Nephi 25:23 has been traditionally interpreted.) This is far from the case! Paul said in Philippians 2:12 that believers need to work out (not for) their salvation with fear and trembling. But this happens after justification, not before. This is the part of salvation that we call “sanctification.”

This still doesn’t make sense to many hard-working Mormons. Why shouldn’t a person sin if his salvation has already taken place? Thinking like this was condemned by the apostle Paul. Listen to what he says in Romans 6:1-14:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

As far as Ephesians 2:8-9 is concerned, notice what Paul says in verse 10 right after he finished saying that believers are saved by grace through faith:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

While claiming that salvation (justification) is provided by grace through faith and is therefore a gift, Paul makes it clear that good works should be a part of a believers’ lives since this is what they were created to do. Nobody should misunderstand grace and somehow come to the conclusion that good works are unimportant.

The Illustration of the 16-year-old Boy and the “10” He Received for His Birthday

An illustration I like to give seems appropriate here. A young man was celebrating his birthday with his family and friends. As he opened up his presents, he came upon a card from his grandfather who was sitting in the corner. The young man picked it up and read the words aloud: “Grandson, I love you so much. I have put 10 into your bank account. Enjoy! Love, Grandpa.” The young man swallowed hard, looked up, and waved to his grandfather. “Thanks,” he said, though he really didn’t mean it. He considered it as nothing more than a cheap gift from someone who he thought had the means to be more generous.

A few weeks later, the boy needed gas for his car and didn’t have any money. Then he realized that he could go to the bank and collect his $10, good for at least another 100 miles on his car. He handed his passbook to the teller, who looked at her computer screen, wrote into the passbook, and handed him a crisp new $10 bill.

As the boy walked out of the bank, he glanced at the page. All of a sudden, he became livid. Running back inside, he bumped the customer standing where his tell had just given him the money. “What’s the meaning of this!” he exclaimed. “Is this a cruel joke?”

The teller looked at him and asked, “What’s wrong?” The boy replied, “Why did you write “$9,999,990” into my book?” “Well,” she answered, “you had $10 million, but you took out $10, so that’s what’s left.”

All of a sudden, the boy understood something that he didn’t before. He had received a gift he could never earn on his own. While entertainment stars and sports figures can make this figure in a single year, it would require the average person to make $200,000 for 50 years, an impossible average salary for most people reading this.

What do you think the reaction of the boy will be? Will he go to his Grandpa’s house and throw lye in the grass, spray paint graffiti on the garage door, and kick the man’s dog? I doubt it. At the very least, I bet he will send a thank you card. But $10 million is a pretty sizable gift. No, I think he will go over to Grandpa’s house and thank him in person.

After hugging his Grandfather and thanking him, he looks at the yard and realizes that the grass needs mowing. “Why is your grass so long?” the boy wondered. Grandpa replied, “Well, I pretty much gave you everything I had, so I don’t have the funds to pay the gardener any more.”

The grandson had an idea. Why, he could mow the grass! He took his grandfather’s mower out and, two hours later, completed the job. It made him feel good to do something for someone who has done something as nice as a $10 million gift.

In fact, it made him feel so good that he decided to come back for the next 51 weeks, mowing the grass each week. What a nice gesture! But wait. What if, at the end of the year, the boy went up to his grandfather and said, “I’m all paid up.” What do you think Grandpa’s reaction would be? No doubt he would be confused. After all, what he gave his grandson was a gift, something that was not meant to be paid back. Imagine if you gave someone a birthday present and the person took out his wallet, asking how much the gift had cost so you could be repaid. This isn’t the protocol! A gift is received, not paid for.

Yes, it’s natural to want to do nice things for someone who has blessed you so much, but it would be a mistake to think that somehow the gift is being paid back. In the grandson’s case, he apparently thought he was “earning” approximately $200,000 every time he mowed the grass. That’s not what the grandfather intended.

In the same way, good works are what we do in response to what God has first done for us. To think we are even paying a portion back is silly. How can you measure the cost of eternal life? And what could a person ever do to ever “earn” a portion of it back? This is the mistake in Mormon soteriology. To think we are paying anything for our salvation—even 67 cents for a bicycle and the father pays the rest, according to Stephen E. Robinson’s famous analogy—is faulty logic. As the hymn goes, Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. A Christian’s good works is the mowing of the grass in gratitude for what has been given.

Finally, 2 Nephi 25:23 doesn’t help. After all, what does that mean, “after all we can do”? Perhaps you mowed your neighbor’s grass yesterday. Wonderful. Couldn’t you have done that last week too? Or suppose you gave the homeless man $5. Couldn’t you have given him $10? Or you prayed 20 minutes yesterday. Why not 30 minutes? Do you get the picture? No matter how hard you try, there is no way to accomplish “all you can do.”

Conclusion: Kimball’s message contradicts the Bible 

The twelfth LDS president concludes his book on page 368 by saying:

Those laden with transgressions and sorrows and sin may be forgiven and cleansed and purified if they will return to their Lord, learn of him, and keep his commandments.

At the beginning of this review, I quoted page 25 of the book with Kimball’s list of more than 80 sins. And lest anyone think it is possible to have gotten away with something, he let it be known that his failing to list that particular sin didn’t mean that is was justified.

Christianity has a much better offer. The Bible says that humans come to the table with nothing but sin-stained motives and behaviors. Even though they had nothing to offer, the believers are able to be forgiven of their sins. As 1 John 1:9 puts it, “if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sin.”

It is only through faith in Him, not anything we can do, that provides for this forgiveness. Romans 10:9-10 says,

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Romans 3:28 says,  

 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

And Galatians 3:11-12 assures that

no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.

Verse 24 adds,

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Spencer W. Kimball placed a big burden on the shoulders of the Latter-day Saint people. According to him (and other LDS leaders), repentance comes with an asterisk. As long as you are sincere in your repentance and overcome the sin, you are fine. Falling short, however, is a problem. Doing the best you can is not good enough if you had the ability to do better.

When we understand that the only Person who could do what Kimball (and ultimately the Mormon religion) commands is Jesus Himself, we really can understand that what is offered in Mormonism is the impossible gospel.

If you have any questions about this very important topic, please don’t hesitate to ask them. Just write me (eric at mrm dot org).

A video found on the LDS Church website supporting the book The Miracle of Forgiveness.

To hear a complete Podcast review of this book, chapter by chapter, click on these links:   Intro  Chapter 1  Chapter 2a   Chapter 2b Chapter 3  Chapter 4a  Chapter 4b  Chapter 4c  Chapter 4d  Chapter 5a    Chapter 5b Chapter 5c  Chapter 6  Chapter 7a  Chapter 7b  Chapter 8  Chapter 9a  Chapter 9b Chapter 10a  Chapter 10b  Chapter 11  Chapter 12a  Chapter 12b  Chapter 12c  Chapter 13 Chapter 14  Chapter 15a  Chapter 15b  Chapter 15c  Chapter 15d  Chapter 16  Chapter 17a Chapter 17b  Chapter 18  Chapter 19  Chapter 20a  Chapter 20b  Chapter 20c  Chapter 21a Chapter 21b  Chapter 22a  Chapter 22b  Chapter 23a  Chapter 23b 

 Is Forgiveness Likely According to the LDS Standard Works? In a less-than-4-minute video, Carissa Johnson shares seven verses a Mormon should consider regarding the issue of forgiveness in Mormonism.

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