As such, Jesus “frankly forgave” all who sincerely sought forgiveness (Luke 7:42). Clearly repentance was (and is) required, but upon a commitment to forsake sin, Christ forgives liberally, generously, and without restraint. This is one reason why Jesus attracted the spiritual outcasts of society: publicans, women of questionable morality, thieves, zealots, and the like (see Luke 15:1). Although Jesus’s followers and disciples were a catalog of commandment breakers, there was something inviting in the Lord’s nature that made them want to be near him. A cleansing power emanated from him that caused the spiritually impure who longed for purity to be drawn to him.
As I read the Lord’s modern scriptural voice in the Doctrine and Covenants, I often find myself surprised how repeatedly and quickly—even unexpectedly—the Lord grants forgiveness. Regardless of the revelatory topic, the Savior often inserts a merciful “thy sins are forgiven.” A revelation on the last days and millennium? It begins with “your sins are forgiven you” (D&C 29:3). The elders want to know which way to travel on a journey? “Your sins are forgiven you” (D&C 60:7). Establishing the First Presidency? “Their sins are forgiven them” (D&C 90:6). It is estimated that “on more than 20 occasions in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord told those to whom He was speaking, ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee, or similar words.” Talk about a freely forgiving nature!
Christ Frequently Forgives Our Sins
When Jesus detects a contrite and repentant heart, the Lord’s cleansing power is not just given freely, it is also given frequently. Jesus’s answer to Peter about how often we should forgive people was actually an insight into the Lord’s own character: I am confident we could accurately rephrase the question as, “Lord, how oft shall we sin against you, and you will forgive us? till seven times?” and Jesus would reply, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22; see also v. 21), suggesting limitless forgiveness. That is great news to all of us who struggle with repeated sin. Perhaps no better scriptural record exists of the Lord’s frequently forgiving nature than those related to Joseph Smith. Surprising as it may seem to some, the Lord repeatedly forgave the Prophet of the Restoration—for matters both large and small. The Prophet was conscious of his personal shortcomings, as was the Lord, who lovingly said of his young servant, “In weakness have I blessed him” (D&C 35:17). His repeated forgiveness began in the Sacred Grove, when the first message of the First Vision was not apostasy nor restoration nor the Book of Mormon, but forgiveness.
Joseph wrote in his 1832 account that the Lord’s first words were, “Joseph [my son] thy sins are forgiven thee.” Throughout a lifetime of subsequent revelations the Savior often repeated the first message of the First Vision to Joseph with revelations such as “at this time your sins are forgiven you” (D&C 29:3); “whose sins are now forgiven you” (D&C 61:2); and “you are clean before me” (D&C 110:5). These frequent forgivenesses to Joseph were for repeated common sins, such as succumbing to negative peer pressure, and also for large-scale sins, such as losing the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Lehi. Frequent mistakes, frequent repentance, and frequent forgiveness tells us something about Joseph Smith’s growth as a prophet but more importantly about our Lord’s frequently forgiving nature.