Miracle of Forgiveness

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)

Notable quotes

  • "We understood also that after a period varying from seconds to decades of mortal life we would die, our bodies would go back to Mother Earth from which they had been created, and our spirits would go to the spirit world, where we would further train for our eternal destiny. After a period, there would be a resurrection or a reunion of the body and the spirit, which would render us immortal and make possible our further climb toward perfection and godhood." (p. 5)
  • "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)
  • "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. But for those Latter-day Saints who are valiant, who fulfill the requirements faithfully and fully, the promises are glorious beyond description: 'Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.' (D&C 132:20)" (p. 9)
  • "There are even 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, serving. Perhaps they do not consider such omissions to be sins, yet these were the kinds of things of which the five foolish virgins of Jesus' parable were probably guilty. The ten virgins belonged to the kingdom and had every right to the blessings-”except that five were not valiant and were not ready when the great day came. They were unprepared through not living all the commandments. They were bitterly disappointed at being shut out from the marriage-as likewise their modern counterparts will be... 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." (pp. 7-“10)
  • "All sins but those excepted by the Lord---basically, the sin against the Holy Ghost, and murder---will be forgiven to those who totally, consistently, and continuously repent in a genuine and comprehensive transformation of life... This earth life is the time to repent. We cannot afford to take any chances of dying an enemy to God." (p. 14, 15)
  • "The reason is forthrightly stated by Nephi-” '. . . There cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God . . .' (1 Ne. 15:34.) And again, '. . . no unclean thing can dwell with God . . .' (1 Ne. 10:21.) To the prophets the term unclean in this context means what it means to God. To man the word may be relative in meaning-”one minute speck of dirt does not make a white shirt or dress unclean, for example. 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." (p. 19)[1]
  • "Repentance is inseparable from time. No one can repent on the cross, nor in prison, nor in custody. One must have the opportunity of committing wrong in order to be really repentant. The man in handcuffs, the prisoner in the penitentiary, the man as he drowns, or as he dies---such a man certainly cannot repent totally. He can wish to do it, he may intend to change his life, he may determine that he will, but that is only the beginning. That is why we should not wait for the life beyond but should abandon evil habits and weaknesses while in the flesh on the earth... Clearly it is difficult to repent in the spirit world of sins involving physical habits and actions. There one has spirit and mind but not the physical power to overcome a physical habit" (p. 83).
  • "True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light." (p. 149)
  • "There is one crucial test of repentance. This is abandonment of the sin. ... In other words, it is not real repentance until one has abandoned the error of his ways and started on a new path... The saving power does not extend to him who merely wants to change his life." (p. 163)
  • "That is why we should not wait for the life beyond but should abandon evil habits and weaknesses while in the flesh on the earth. Elder Melvin J. Ballard pinpointed this problem: A man may receive the priesthood and all its privileges and blessings, but until he learns to overcome the flesh, his temper, his tongue, his disposition to indulge in the things God has forbidden, he cannot come into the celestial kingdom of God-he must overcome either in this life or in the life to come. But this life is the time in which men are to repent. Do not let any of us imagine that we can go down to the grave not having overcome the corruptions of the flesh and then lose in the grave all our sins and evil tendencies. They will be with us. They will be with the spirit when separated from the body. Clearly it is difficult to repent in the spirit world of sins involving physical habits and actions. There one has spirit and mind but not the physical power to overcome a physical habit. He can desire to change his life, but how can he overcome the lusts of the flesh unless he has flesh to control and transform? How can he overcome the tobacco or the drink habit in the spirit world where there is no liquor nor tobacco and no flesh to crave it? Similarly with other sins involving lack of control over the body." (p. 163)
  • "Perhaps one reason murder is so heinous is that man cannot restore life. Man's mortal life is given him in which to repent and prepare himself for eternity, and should one of his fellowmen terminate his life and thus limit his progress by making his repentance impossible it is a ghastly deed, a tremendous responsibility for which the murderer may not be able to atone in his lifetime" (p. 188)
  • "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 in 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 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." (p. 203)[2]
  • "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." (pp. 206-207)
  • "Perfection really comes through overcoming... Christ became perfect through overcoming. 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". (pp. 209-210)
  • "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." (pp. 313-314)
  • "Little reward can be expected for a tiny effort to repent, for the Lord has said that it must be a total repentance "with all his heart" and the error must be forsaken fully and wholly, mentally as well as physically. The "filthy dreamer" of the day or night, or an adulterer who still has desires toward the object of his sin, who still revels in the memories of his sin, has not forsaken it "with all his heart" as required by holy scripture." (p. 333)
  • "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'™ It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he 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" (pp. 324-325).
  • "This passage indicates an attitude which is basic to the sanctification we should all be seeking, and thus to the repentance which merits forgiveness. It 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." (pp. 354-355)
  • "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. The Lord anticipated the weakness of men which would return him to his transgression and he gave this warning (D&C 82:7)". (p. 360)

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]

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

  • "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 Monson (On the Lord's Errand, p.342)

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

  • "I was convinced and just ordered Believing Christ and his new book [Following Christ]. I read [Miracle of Forgiveness] when I was a teenager and felt like i'd never measure up to it. I mean, no matter what I did, it seemed to be wrong. After just getting rebaptized I am getting hit with the same feelings of inadequacy and sinfulness which leads to feelings of why try. I hope this new author has some insight that doesn't make me feel like a degenerate sinner for not being temple worthy in thought and deed."[10]

  • "I was given this book by my bishop when I was maybe age 16 or so. It scared the crap out of me and the main thought I remember having was that either [Spencer W. Kimball] was out of his mind or I was doomed, no matter how hard I tried to be righteous and worthy."[11]

  • "When I read it it left me depressed and I had attitudes about the Gospel and repentance that have taken a toll."[12]

  • "Our church is full of people (and leaders) who still think salvation comes from keeping the commandments. And Miracle of Forgiveness epitomizes that thinking. It emphasizes performance over 'completeness'. It's Old Testament vs. New Testament... [T]hank goodness for books like Believing and Following Christ. They describe the LDS gospel I've always believed in. A breath of fresh air in this sometimes crazy legalistic church." [13]

  • "I was 13 or 14, excessively perfectionist, and heading for depression. I read this book and became suicidal. That's how badly it affected me. And that's why I voted 4. The last 2 chapters? I don't remember them. I must have read them, because I seem to remember reading the whole book, but I must totally have missed their message of hope. What hope was there for a horrible sinner like me anyway? No matter how much I tried, I kept failing miserably. I was headed for the Outer Darkness, for sure, or maybe the Telestial Kingdom if I was lucky. I retained those beliefs for more than 15 years, until Believing Christ was given to me. It's upon reading it that I experienced true hope for the first time of my life." - Del March[14]

  • "Perhaps the MoF contributes to the high suicide rate amoung LDS youth? SWK did much good and I honor him, but the MoF is hardly a timeless classic."[15]

  • "I read the Miracle of Forgiveness and realise that it will indeed be a miracle to ever get forgiveness for all the horrors I have committed. Still, I keep committing them."[16]

[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.


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..."