Paul and Stephen Forgave Enemies
A mark of true greatness is the forgiving heart. Consider the life of Paul. Though he may not have been perfect, he was a most righteous man after his conversion. He gave us a beautiful example of forgiving others. He recalled: Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works. (2 Tim. 4:14.)
Paul was willing to leave the judgment and penalty to the Lord, who would be wise and just. In spite of all he suffered at the hands of oppressors, some of whom were his own false brethren, he was not consumed and scorched with hate or bitterness or rancor. Quite the reverse.
To the Corinthians he urged the very traits he had so fully developed in himself. (2 Cor. 11:23-28.) Here we have the noble Paul who had suffered much from his contemporaries Paul, who had been tortured with beatings, who had suffered incarceration in many prisons; Paul, who had received two hundred stripes across his back, who had been beaten with rods; Paul, who had been stoned and left for dead, and who had three times been shipwrecked and had struggled many hours in the water; Paul, who had suffered from robbers and had been hidden from his pursuers and had escaped in a basket over the wall this Paul who had suffered so much at the hands of others came near the end of his life with a forgiving heart and said: "At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be, laid to their charge." (2 Tim. 4:16. Italics added.)
Another who exemplified the divine nature in forgiving was Stephen. One of the seven men chosen for temporal work in the Church, Stephen was a man "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost." His life closely approached the perfection line, so much so that people "saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." (Acts 6:15.) Following his piercing sermon to his antagonists, the wicked of the place, he became the victim of a rash, vicious assassination by men who rushed at him And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:58-60. Italics added.)
Great Example of Jesus
We have the supreme example of fortitude, kindness, charity and forgiveness in him, who set the perfect example, our Savior, Jesus Christ, who commands us all to follow. All his life he had been the victim of ugliness. As a newborn infant he had been spirited away to, save his life at the instruction of an angel in a dream, and had been taken to Egypt. At the end of a hectic life he had stood in quiet, restrained, divine dignity, while evil men spat foul, disease-germ- ridden spittle in his face. How nauseating! But what composure he showed! What control!
They pushed him around and jostled him and buffeted him. Not an angry word escaped his lips. What mastery of self! They slapped him in his face and on his body. What humiliation! How painful! Yet he stood resolute, unintimidated. Literally did he follow his own admonition when he turned his other cheek so that it too could be slapped and smitten.
His own disciples had forsaken him and fled. In such a difficult position, he met the rabble and their leaders. He stood alone at the mercy of his brutal, criminal assailants and vilifiers.
Words, too, are hard to take. Incriminations and recriminations and their blasphemy of things, persons, places and situations sacred to him must have been hard to take. They called his own sweet innocent mother a fornicator, yet he stood his ground, never faltering. No cringing, no denials, no rebuttals. When false, mercenary witnesses were paid to lie about him, he seemed not to condemn them. They twisted his words and misinterpreted his meanings, yet he was calm and unflustered. Had he not been taught to pray for them "which despitefully use you"?
He was beaten, officially scourged. He wore a crown of thorns, a wicked torture. He was mocked and jeered. He suffered every indignity at the hands of his own people. "I came unto my own," he said, "and my own received me not." He was required to carry his own cross, taken to the mount of Calvary, nailed to a cross, and suffered excruciating pain. Finally, with the soldiers and his accusers down below him, he looked upon the Roman soldiers and said these immortal words: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34.)
We Must Forgive Regardless
It would have been easy for Paul, Stephen and Jesus to be revengeful-that is, if they had not assiduously cultivated the forgiving spirit. Revenge is a response of the carnal man, not the spiritual one. It enters into one's life when he allows it to through misunderstandings and injuries.
In our own dispensation, the Lord spoke pointedly of this matter and made a statement which is startling in its implications. It is found in Doctrine & Covenants Section 64, previously quoted. I shall never forget this scripture, for it came to me in what seemed a miraculous manner.
I was struggling with a community problem in a small ward in the East where two prominent men, leaders of the people, were deadlocked in a long and unrelenting feud. Some misunderstanding between them had driven them far apart with enmity. As the days, weeks, and months passed, the breach became wider. The families of each conflicting party began to take up the issue and finally nearly all the people of the ward were involved. Rumors spread and differences were aired and gossip became tongues of fire until the little community was divided by a deep gulf. I was sent to clear up the matter. After a long stake conference, lasting most of two days, I arrived at the frustrated community about 6 p.m., Sunday night, and immediately went into session with the principal combatants.
How we struggled! How I pleaded and warned and begged and urged! Nothing seemed to be moving them. Each antagonist was so sure that he was right and justified that it was impossible to budge him.
The hours were passing it was now long after midnight, and despair seemed to enshroud the place; the atmosphere was still one of ill temper and ugliness. Stubborn resistance would not give way. Then it happened. I aimlessly opened my Doctrine and Covenants again and there before me it was. I had read it many times in past years and it had had no special meaning then. But tonight it was the very answer. It was an appeal and an imploring and a threat and seemed to be coming direct from the Lord. I read from the seventh verse on, but the quarreling participants yielded not an inch until I came to the ninth verse. Then I saw them flinch, startled, wondering. Could that be right? The Lord was saying to us-to all of us-"Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another."
This was an obligation. They had heard it before. They had said it in repeating the Lord's Prayer. But now: "... for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord ..."
In their hearts, they may have been saying: "Well, I might forgive if he repents and asks forgiveness, but he must make the first move." Then the full impact of the last line seemed to strike them: "For there remaineth in him the greater sin."
What? Does that mean I must forgive even if my antagonist remains cold and indifferent and mean? There is no mistaking it.
A common error is the idea that the offender must apologize and humble himself to the dust before forgiveness is required. Certainly, the one who does the injury should totally make his adjustment, but as for the offended one, he must forgive the offender regardless of the attitude of the other. Sometimes men get satisfactions front seeing the other party on his knees and grovelling in the dust, but that is not the gospel way.
Shocked, the two men sat up, listened, pondered a minute, then began to yield. This scripture added to all the others read brought them to their knees. Two a.m. and two bitter adversaries were shaking hands, smiling and forgiving and asking forgiveness. Two men were in a meaningful embrace. This hour was holy. Old grievances were forgiven and forgotten, and enemies became friends again. No reference was ever made again to the differences. The skeletons were buried, the closet of dry bones was locked and the key was thrown away, and peace was restored.
In this regard the admonition of President Joseph F. Smith in 1902 is as applicable now as then:
We hope and pray that you will...forgive one another and never from this time forth...bear malice toward another fellow creature. It is extremely hurtful for any man holding the gift of the Holy Ghost to harbor a spirit of envy, or malice, or retaliations, 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." I want to say to you that Latter- day Saints who harbor a feeling of unforgiveness in their souls are more censurable than the one who has sinned against them. 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.
Yes, to be in the right we must forgive, and we must do so without regard to whether or not our antagonist repents, or how sincere is his transformation, or whether or not he asks our forgiveness. We must follow the example and the teaching of the Master, who said: "... Ye ought to say in your hearts let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds." (D&C 64:11.) But men often are unwilling to leave it to the Lord, fearing perhaps that the Lord might be too merciful, less severe than is proper in the case. In this we could all take a lesson from the great David.
When David was being pursued to the death by the jealous King Saul, and David came upon an easy opportunity to kill him, the young, pure-minded David refrained from ridding himself of his enemy. He cut off the skirt of Saul's robe to prove to the king that he had been in David's hand and at his mercy. Speaking later to Saul, he said: ... I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it. The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee ... wickedness proceedeth from the wicked. (I Sam. 24:11-13.)
And Saul, when he realized how helpless he had been when at the mercy of David, responded: Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil. (I Sam. 24:17.)
One of the world's most beautiful mountains, located in Jasper National Park in Canada, was named for Edith Cavell. Edith Cavell was a nurse who was executed by her enemies for having hidden, nursed, and fed wounded soldiers. As she stood before the firing squad she uttered these deathless words which are now preserved in bronze and granite: "I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone."
Other Modern Examples There was the young mother who lost her husband. The family had been in poor circumstances, and the insurance policy was only $2,000. The company promptly delivered the check for that amount as soon as proof of death was furnished. The young widow concluded she should save this for emergencies, and accordingly deposited it in the bank. Others knew of her savings, and one kinsman convinced her that she should lend the $2,000 to him at a high rate of interest.
Years passed, and she had received neither principal nor interest and she noticed that the borrower avoided her and made evasive promises when she asked him about the money. Now she needed the money and it could not be had.
"How I hate him!" she told me, and her voice breathed venom and bitterness and her dark eyes flashed. To think that an able-bodied man would defraud a young widow with a family to support! "How I loathe him!" she repeated over and over. Then I told her the Kempton story. She listened intently. I saw she was impressed. At the conclusion there were tears in her eyes, and she whispered: "Thank you. Thank you, sincerely. Surely I, too, must forgive my enemy. I will now cleanse my heart of its bitterness. I do not expect ever to receive the money, but I leave my offender in the hands of the Lord."
Weeks later, she saw me again and confessed that those intervening weeks had been the happiest of her life. A new peace had overshadowed her and she was able to pray for the offender and forgive him, even though she never received back a single dollar.
I saw a woman once whose little girl had been violated. "I will never forgive the culprit so long as I live," she repeated every time it came into her mind. Vicious and ugly was the act. Anyone should be shocked and disturbed at such a crime, but to be unwilling to forgive is not Christlike. The foul deed was done and could not be undone. The culprit had been disciplined. In her bitterness the woman shriveled and shrank.
Contrast this woman with the Latter-day Saint girl who climbed the heights of self-control as she forgave the man who disfigured her lovely face. Let the United Press newsman, Neal Corbett, tell her story as it appeared in the pages of the newspapers of the land.
"I would think he must be suffering, anybody who's like that, we ought to feel sorry for him," said April Aaron of the man who had sent her to a hospital for three weeks, following a brutal San Francisco knife attack. April Aaron is a devout Mormon, 22 years of age. She is a secretary who's as pretty as her name, but her face has just one blemish-the right eye is missing, April lost it to the 'wildly slashing knife of a purse snatcher," near San Francisco's Golden Gate Park while en route to an MIA dance last April 18. She also suffered deep slashes on her left arm and right leg during a struggle with her assailant, after she tripped and fell in her efforts to elude him just one block from the Mormon chapel. "I ran for a block and a half before he caught me. You can't run very fast on high heels," April said with a smile. Slashes on her leg were so severe doctors feared for a time it would need amputation. The sharp edge of the weapon could damage neither April's vivaciousness, nor her compassion. ". I wish that somebody could do something for him, to help him. He should have some treatment. Who knows what leads a person to do a thing like this? If they don't find him, he's likely to do it again." ... April Aaron has won the hearts of the people in San Francisco Bay area with her courage and good spirit in face of tragedy. Her room at St. Francis hospital was banked with flowers throughout her stay and attendants said they couldn't recall when anyone received more cards and expressions of good wishes.
Pride or Peace?
Frequently, pride gets in our way and becomes our stumbling block. But each of us needs to ask himself the question: "Is your pride more important than your peace?"
All too frequently, one who has done many splendid things in life and made an excellent contribution will let pride cause him to lose the rich reward to which he would be entitled otherwise. We should always wear the sackcloth and ashes of a forgiving heart and a contrite spirit, being willing always to exercise genuine humility, as did the publican, and ask the Lord to help us to forgive.
In 1906, my father received a letter from his dear friend, Matthias F. Cowley, who had been greatly embarrassed by being dropped from the Council of the Twelve. His letter showed great courage and a sweet, unembittered spirit: "In relation to the trial which has come to me, I will say that I accept it in all humility and meekness, with no fault to find against my brethren, but a strong desire to continue faithful and to devote my life and all my energies in the service of the Lord."
In the Spirit of Love Inspired by the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul has given to us the solution to the problems of life which require understanding and forgiveness. "And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." (Eph. 4:32.) If this spirit of kindly, tender-hearted forgiveness of one another could be carried into every home, selfishness, distrust and bitterness which break so many homes and families would disappear and men would live in peace.
This forgiving spirit has a quantitative as well as a qualitative aspect. Forgiveness cannot be a one-time program. Undoubtedly, Peter had been annoyed by some who were repeaters and who even after they were forgiven returned to their sin. To clear this up, he asked the Redeemer: Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matt. 18:21-22.)
This is in accord, of course, with the Master's teaching and practice of the highest gospel law, the law of love: A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35.)
Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, 277.