Elder Matthew Cowley, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles a half century ago, shared this story: "While I have been thinking about this principle of repentance, there has come to my mind one experience I had during the war years when our young men were going from New Zealand to the war. There came into my office one day two young Maori brothers. They were in uniform. These two young men were about to embark . . . and when they came into my office, I detected the odor of liquor. But I was not surprised when they asked for a blessing, for I knew them well; I had lived at the home of their mother on my first mission. I said to them, 'Do you deserve a blessing?'
"They knew what I meant, and they said, 'We think we do now; we repented a few minutes ago.' . . . Under ordinary conditions I think I wouldn't have given them a blessing at that time . . . [but] the Spirit prompted me to bless them. In my blessing I called them to repentance and told them that the blessings were conditioned entirely upon repentance. . . . And how proud one of those young men was just a year ago when he came to me and said that he was counselor to the president of one of the branches in New Zealand, and that his brother was very active in the Church. From the minute they repented, coming to my office . . . in Auckland, New Zealand, they had not broken the Word of Wisdom" (Matthew Cowley Speaks, p. 62-63).
Elder Cowley later taught that the Polynesian's "know how to repent, and they know how to repent often. They know how to be forgiven, and they know how to forgive themselves. . . . but over here I have talked to people who have been forgiven thirty-five years ago and who have been almost perfect ever since, and they are still saying, 'I'll never forgive myself' . . . Teach these youngsters how to forgive themselves when they are forgiven" (Matthew Cowley Speaks, p. 133-134).
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, "Don't ever feel that you can't be forgiven. Our Father in Heaven loves you. He is your Father. He is your Heavenly Parent. He has great concern for you. He reaches out to you in love and in forgiveness. . . . Our Father in Heaven will take care of the forgiveness. You put it behind you. You talk with your bishop. You live in righteousness. You do what is right and things will work out for you. I don't want to see you go around brooding forever about something, some little thing, perhaps, that may have happened, or some serious thing that may have happened. There is hope. There is forgiveness. There is peace for those who follow the right path" (The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 231).
President Hinckley also said, "So many of us are prone to say we forgive, when in fact we are unwilling to forget. If the Lord is willing to forget the sins of the repentant, then why are so many of us inclined to bring up the past again and again? Here is a great lesson we all need to learn. There is no true forgiveness without forgetting" (Ensign, January 1989, p. 5).
The Apostle John taught, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). We all sin and come short of the perfection Father asks of us. Since we all sin, we are all in debt to the Savior who has made it possible, through the atonement, for us to be forgiven for our sins.
This is truth---all of us may be forgiven of our sins, no matter who we are, where we live, or our station in life. All of us sin, all of us can be forgiven. It is important that we teach ourselves and our children how to repent and how to forgive. If we never learn to forgive ourselves, how can we forgive others?
President Spencer W. Kimball wrote, "There is a glorious miracle awaiting every soul who is prepared to change. Repentance and forgiveness make a brilliant day of the darkest night. When souls are reborn, when lives are changed--then comes the great miracle to beautify and warm and lift. When spiritual death has threatened and now instead there is resuscitation, when life pushes out death--when this happens it is the miracle of miracles. And such great miracles will never cease so long as there is one person who applies the redeeming power of the Savior and his own good works to bring about his rebirth. . . . The essence of the miracle of forgiveness is that it brings peace to the previously anxious, restless, frustrated, perhaps tormented soul. In a world of turmoil and contention this is indeed a priceless gift" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 35).
There is another important aspect of forgiveness and repentance. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is not just for one, but all of our Father's children. If we have faith and hope for ourselves, the Atonement requires that we offer the same to others. Our role, with the Savior's help, is to offer the same forgiveness to others as He has offered to us.
"My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts . . . Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men" (Doctrine and Covenants 64:8-10).
The gospel teaches us we are all children of a loving Father in Heaven, redeemed by a loving Savior, and commanded to "love one another; as I have loved you" (John 13:34). It is only right that the Savior commands us to forgive one another and to love one another. He has given the example and the commandment. We are not asked to approve of their sin, nor accept it, but we are to love them as our brother or sister. God is love and we must love to be like Him. We must also remember and never forget, "there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2 Nephi 2:8).
President Joseph F. Smith declared, "We hope and pray that you will go . . . to your homes feeling in your hearts and from the depths of your souls to forgive one another and never from this time forth to bear malice toward another fellow creature. I do not care whether he is a member of the Church . . . or not, whether he is a friend or a foe, whether he is good or bad. It is extremely hurtful for any [person] . . . enjoying the gift of the Holy Ghost to harbor a spirit of envy, or malice, or retaliation, or intolerance toward or against his fellow man. We ought to say in our hearts, 'Let God judge between me and thee, but as for me, I will forgive.' . . . Go home and dismiss envy and hatred from your hearts; dismiss the feeling of unforgiveness; and cultivate in your souls that spirit of Christ which cried out upon the cross, 'Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' This is the spirit that Latter-day Saints ought to possess all the day long. The man who has that spirit in his heart and keeps it there will never have any trouble with his neighbor; . . . but he will always be at peace with God. It is a good thing to be at peace with God" (Conference Report, October 1902, pp. 86-87).
May we heed the words of our former leaders in learning to forgive ourselves and others and to view each other as our Father in Heaven views us. May we strive to strengthen and help each other. May we be examples and teachers of forgiveness to all we come in contact with. May we feel "peace with God" and may we join Lehi in praise, "Behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love" (2 Nephi 1:15).
Barton M. Golding