Miracle of Forgiveness

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Miracle of Forgiveness, by Spencer W. Kimball
Part of the series on the
Impossible
Gospel

Overview
Miracle of Forgiveness
Repentance
Atonement
Perfection
1 Nephi 3:7
2 Nephi 25:23
Moroni 10:32
Merit, earning, and worthiness
Personal worthiness

The Miracle of Forgiveness, by Spencer W. Kimball, is perhaps the bluntest literature available on the traditional Mormon gospel. "Trying is not sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin" (p.164). It is known by Christians who evangelize to Mormons for its perfectionism, the impossible prerequisites its gives for comprehensive forgiveness (cf. justification), and its definition of repentance as the perfect, successful abandonment of sin. Many Christian evangelists actually encourage Mormons to read this book, as it serves as a great contrast with the Epistle to the Romans.

The book's title is a misnomer, as the content is chiefly about a six-step "repentance", the meaning of which for Kimball is perfection.

Perhaps the most famous quote of the book among Christians is the following:

"Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This process toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through the perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us... 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." (p. 208)

Another good summary is:

"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.'" (p. 286)

Contents

[edit] Notable quotes

[edit] Reputation in Mormonism

"[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."[3]

[edit] Worthy of accolades

This book has received accolades, even from the pulpit at General Conference:

"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[4]
"When needed, full repentance will require action on your part. If you are not familiar with the classic steps to repentance, such as confession and abandonment of sin, restitution, obedience, and seeking forgiveness, talk to a bishop or study a source such as President Spencer W. Kimball's masterly work The Miracle of Forgiveness. In addition to fulfilling those requirements, the return of your peace of conscience will be hastened by careful attention to another step that is sometimes not recognized. The Savior has made it clear that to receive forgiveness you must forgive others their offenses against you." -"Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind", Richard G. Scott, of the "Quorum of the Twelve Apostles" [5]

The book is quoted in the highly influential work, Gospel Principles, which is published by the Mormon organization itself:

"But Elder Kimball warns: 'Even though forgiveness is so abundantly promised, there is no promise nor indication of forgiveness to any soul who does not totally repent. . . . We can hardly be too forceful in reminding people that they cannot sin and be forgiven and then sin again and again and expect forgiveness' (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 353, 360). Those who receive forgiveness and then repeat the sin are held accountable for their former sins (see D&C 82:7; Ether 2:15)."[6]

In a Liahona article entitled, "Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ", Bruce C. Hafen wrote:

"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"[7]

As of 2006, the book is on the list of the five or six books Temple Square missionaries are allowed to read during their mission. While the book has been favorably appealed to multiple times at General Conference and in church manuals, Stephen E. Robinson's rival book (both in content and in popularity), Believing Christ, has not been mentioned in them even once.

[edit] Too harsh

Among many Mormons, the book is known as too harsh, or even as having "no grace", and other books by Stephen E. Robinson or Robert Millet, such as Beliving Christ, are preferred. "Because many Mormons [find statements in the book] troubling, it is not uncommon for some to dismiss the importance of this book by insisting that since Kimball was only giving his own opinions and because he was only a Mormon apostle when it was written, its teachings are not authoritative."[8]

[edit] "It's only about big sins"

Some Mormons insist that the book's teachings on repentance only apply to what the Mormon culture perceives as big, heinous sins (such as sexual impurity, a sin which Kimball particularly emphasizes). However, Kimball is clear on the range of sins in his purview:

"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." (p. 25)

In chapter 3 Kimball writes:

"There is never a day in any man’s [or woman’s] life when repentance is not essential to his well-being and eternal progress. But when most of us think of repentance we tend to narrow our vision and view it as good only for our husbands, our wives, our parents, our children, our neighbors, our friends, the world—anyone and everyone except ourselves. Similarly there is a prevalent, perhaps subconscious, feeling that the Lord designed repentance only for those who commit murder or adultery or theft or other heinous crimes. This is of course not so. If we are humble and desirous of living the gospel we will come to think of repentance as applying to everything we do in life, whether it be spiritual or temporal in nature. Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection." (p. 32–33)[9]

On page 16 he wrote:

"And let us not suppose that in calling people to repentance the prophets are concerned only with the more grievous sins such as murder, adultery, stealing, and so on, nor only with those persons who have not accepted the gospel ordinances. All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome, before a person can attain perfection and godhood."

[edit] Mormon quotes on the book

The following Mormon quotes reflect common Mormon sentiments about the book:

[edit] Christian response

There aren't many problems with how Kimball "lays down the law", but rather with how Kimball doesn't give a gracious recourse for the sinner who finds himself enslaved by sin. The Bible is very clear that God demands comprehensive moral perfection, and those who fall short of this should indeed be overwhelmed by guilt and shame until they find a sacrifice to take the guilt and shame for them. As the great passover lamb sacrifice, Jesus Christ died on the cross to take the penalty, guilt, and shame for all those who would lift the empty hands of broken-hearted, desperate faith. Kimball makes this receiving of grace and redemption impossible by giving an impossible standard of six-step repentance, the completion of which is allegedly required for receiving forgiveness. Realistically, the only repentance that brings forgiveness is a weak, incomplete, and imperfect repentance. While Christians continue to improve and deepen their repentance in the pursuit of a greater holiness, the repentance that brings forgiveness is simply a brokenhearted heart-cry of hatred of sin, love for God's holiness, and trust in the God who "justifies the ungodly" by faith apart from works (Romans 4:4-5). 1st John is written that "you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13), and Paul writes to believers,

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Jesus taught,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (John 5:24)

Ironically, Kimball robs his readers of the very thing that would most empower them to pursue holiness. God means for his people to seek righteousness in the context of already having a solid relationship with Jesus Christ, built on the foundation of having received immediate and permanent forgiveness and eternal life (eternal life which, although already received, will be consummated when Jesus returns). D.A. Carson writes of the "eternal life" which the Gospel of John speaks:

"[Eternal life is] the life of the age to come, experienced now even if consummated only later (cf. 5:20-21, 25-26; 17:2)… This does not collapse the notion of [future] judgment into present, spiritual experience, since the future judgment remains (5:28-29). Rather, it is in line with the New Testament insistence that the age to come can no longer be set off absolutely from the present age, now that Jesus the Messiah has come. Believers already enjoy the eternal life that will be consummated in the resurrection of their bodies at [Christ’s second coming]; unbelievers stand under the looming wrath of God that will be consummated in their resurrection and condemnation..."[17]

As Ardel Caneday and Thomas Schreiner write, eternal life, already received by faith as a gift, was meant to be the very thing the empowers our endurance to the end:

"The 'race set before us’ is an uncommon foot race, for the victor’s wreath of life that we pursue is the life that already courses through our mortal bodies by God’s Spirit (Romans 8:11). This is not the rhetoric of a sports commentator reporting on the marathon at the Olympics: ‘The runners are already empowered by the gold.’ It is much more than desire for the gold that invigorates runners in this uncommon race. For we are affirmed that although eternal life is God’s prize of salvation that we pursue with eager hope, eternal life is also the gift of grace that already invigorates us with the resurrection life so that we run the race with perseverance. Eternal life is the reward that we trust God will give to us who faithfully endure to the end of the race. Yet eternal life is also the very breath of heaven that already fills our hearts by God's Spirit and enlivens our 'feeble arms and weak knees' (Hebrews 12:12) to 'run the race set before us' (Hebrews 12:1)."[18]
See also the response written at the end of the article on repentance.

[edit] Addendum

A notable oddity from pp. 127-128:

On the sad character Cain, an interesting story comes to us from Lycurgus A. Wilson's book on the life of David W. Patten. From the book I quote an extract from a letter by Abraham O. Smoot giving his recollection of David Patten's account of meeting "a very remarkable person who had represented himself as being Cain."
As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me…. His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight..."

[edit] References

  1. Quoted in Doctrines of Gospel, chapter 14.
  2. Quoted in Doctrines of Gospel, chapter 14.
  3. (Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, SLC: Deseret Book, 2005, 79.)
  4. (First Presidency Message, Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Sept. 1988, 6.)
  5. "Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind", October 2004 General Conference talk by Richard G. Scott. Accessed 8/23/2006. URL: http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-479-5,00.html
  6. Gospel Principles, end of chapter 39. Accessed 8/23/2006. URL: http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-49,00.html
  7. Bruce C. Hafen, "Beauty for Ashes: The Atonement of Jesus Christ," Liahona, April 1997, p. 39)
  8. "The Miracle of Forgiveness", reviewed by Bill McKeever. Accessed 8/23/2006. URL: http://www.mrm.org/multimedia/text/miracle-of-forgiveness.html
  9. Quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 37. Available online here.
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  16. http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2008/12/a-partial-list-of-my-mormon-failures-annotated/
  17. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 214
  18. Ardel Caneday and Thomas Schreiner, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance, p. 88

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Non-Mormon

[edit] Mormon

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