By way of an introduction to this 2014 series on The Miracle of Forgiveness, here is a brief introduction to its author, Spencer W Kimball.
Ten Things You Should Know About Spencer W Kimball
- He was born 28 March 1895, the grandson of early Mormon leader Heber C Kimball and nephew of Joseph Smith Jr. Even today, it may ( perhaps might not) surprise you how closely related Mormon leaders are at the top of the tree, either by marriage or descent. Nepotism is a key characteristic in Mormon leadership.
- He worked in a bank as a young man, later setting up a successful insurance and savings business. Many Mormon leaders come from business backgrounds, which is good for business since the Mormon Church has been described by Newsweek Magazine in 2011 as a “sanctified multinational corporation,” and “the General Electric of American religion.”
- Those who heard him speak remarked on his quiet, hoarse voice. From 1950 he was treated for throat cancer and surgery permanently impaired his speech. To overcome this he would use a special ear-mounted microphone so he could he heard.
- In 1914 he was called to serve a mission in the Swiss-German mission but was shipped back to the Central States Mission following the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand.
- He wanted to be a schoolteacher but he was drafted into the army in 1917, the year the US entered the First World War.
- He married Camilla Eyring in November 1917. She was born 1894 in Chihuahua, Mexico, where early Mormon polygamists had fled back in 1885 to avoid federal law. She is the aunt of current first counsellor in the presidency, Henry B Eyring. Her father, Vernon Romney, is said to be the last Mormon to practice polygamy, as recently as 1954 when two of his wives died. You may have noticed the name Romney, a familiar dynastic Mormon name that can be traced by marriage all the way back to Parley P Pratt, one of the church’s earliest apostles.
- He became an apostle in 1943 and the then church president directed him to work with Native Americans who, in those days, were universally called Lamanites among Mormons.
- His work led him to believe that as “Lamanites” turned to Mormonism the curse pronounced on them in the Book of Mormon making them “dark and loathsome” (1 Nephi 12:22-23; 2 Nephi 5:21) was visibly being lifted, fulfilling a prophecy they would become “white and delightsome” (2 Nephi 30:6, 1959 ed. changed since to “fair and delightsome” but carrying the same meaning) He is quoted as saying, “I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people…today they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people…for years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome.” (Improvement Era, Dec.1960, pp922-23)
- It was Spencer W Kimball who presided over the church (1974-1985) when the famous 1978 announcement was made that Negroes would no longer be barred from holding office in the Mormon Church.
- His book The Miracle of Forgiveness has been a great burden to generations of Mormons, those who have grasped its message discouraged by the impossible task Kimball lays on them. Many have come to realise, as did Paul in Romans 7, that they cannot deliver themselves from their sin. Unfortunately, Mormonism insists it is possible and offers no Christian/biblical solution to this dilemma, as we will see.
The Miracle of Forgiveness
A Christian might reasonably expect a book entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness to focus on God and his purposes, grace and mercy, Christ and the work of the cross. After all, miracles are his province and forgiveness in his gift. It is true that the Divine is part of the Mormon story, yet the striking thing is that the focus from the start is man, the creature rather than the Creator (Ro. 1:25)
The chapter begins by addressing the destiny of man, the journey of man’s life on earth, and the goal of man in eternity. When it addresses Life’s Divine Purpose one might expect that here, after all, is the correct focus. But this Mormon prophet insists that the Divine purpose is, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39, Pearl of Great Price)
He goes on to write that, “…immortality and eternal life constitute the sole purpose of life…” Later in this discussion of life’s Divine purpose he writes:
“…that man is the supreme creation, made in the image and similitude of God and His Son, Jesus Christ; that man is the offspring of God; that for man, and man alone, was the earth created, organised, planted and made ready for human habitation; and that, having within him the seeds of godhood and thus being a god in embryo, man has unlimited potential for progress and attainment.”
It is to this end, the progress of man, man’s attaining his unlimited and divine potential, immortality and eternal life, godhood, that Spencer Kimball writes. This, he insists, is the drama and purpose of life. Yet the psalmist sees it quite differently:
“You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Ps.73:24-28 ESV)
The psalmist expects not to receive glory but to be received into God’s glory; his desire, in heaven or on earth, is God and not his own godhood; his strength is God and not his own ability to attain; his “portion,” or reward, is God and not his own achievements; his desire, his refuge is God and not his own “progress” and the only works that concern him are the works of God.
As the Westminster Catechism rightly puts it, “Man’s chief purpose and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.”
It is important to keep in the forefront of your mind that while for Christians our chief purpose and highest end is the glory of God, for Mormons God’s chief purpose and highest end is their own attainment and progress, achieving their full potential – the glory of man. Kimball writes that this brings glory to God, but this is not God glorified in his creation but God glorified in our glorification. His book is a self-help manual on how this is achieved.
Belief in God
Unsurprisingly, the first requirement is belief in God. But belief here is not trust in God and his finished work in saving sinful and helpless man through the cross as Christians understand it, but a belief that God exists and an understanding that God’s purpose is our immortality and eternal life. He writes, “This book presupposes a belief in God and in life’s high purpose.”
This is not the familiar Bible story of man’s low state resulting from the fall, and God’s reaching down in Jesus to save man from himself. Rather, it is the story of man’s high purpose in striving for and achieving godhood. He touches on many key shibboleths of the Christian faith – repentance, forgiveness, mercy, etc. but, having “believed” there is a God, he insists we co-operate with God, following a strict code of laws, to achieve our own exaltation. He writes:
“Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Saviour, has given us our map – a code of laws and commandments whereby we might attain perfection and, eventually, godhood.”
Mormonism is an exhaustive, if often confusing, account of the plan by which this is achieved. Confusing because, where the Bible makes clear that Christ’s is a once-for-all sacrifice, making salvation in the kingdom of God available “to all who believe,” (Eph.2:8) to a Mormon Christ’s sacrifice made resurrection(what Mormons call salvation) inevitable and universal, regardless of faith, and everything beyond that is provisional upon our obedience to the Mormon plan. If sufficiently faithful we will enter God’s highest heaven and become gods ourselves (what Mormons call exaltation)
This plan, according to the Mormon prophet, posits the following ideas:
- Pre-mortal Life
That we had a pre-mortal existence, first as spirit matter, which was eternal and co-existent with God, then as spirit children of God, born of heavenly parents with spirit bodies made of this eternally existing spirit matter. So we are, in effect, as eternal as God himself since what we were made of co-exists eternally with him.
This is contradicted by the Bible which states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1) In other words, there was a beginning for everything, and when it began God was already there. Paul refers to the God “who calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Ro.4: 17)
Later we read, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Heb.11:3) This is directed at the mistaken Greco-Roman idea that matter existed eternally, and the erroneous gnostic notion that evil was a lesser, eternal force alongside God. Again, speaking of the eternal Word (Jesus), “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3) God is eternal, all else is temporal.
- Mortal Life
He also states that in this “first estate” we underwent a period of training and testing to be admitted into this present, mortal state. Our current estate as mortals on earth is evidence that we passed the test and our primary purpose in becoming mortal is to gain a physical body, like God’s physical body, and undergo further testing.
We do this with no recollection of our “first estate.” This is Mormonism’s ‘faith,’ i.e. a blind following, uninformed by experience, knowledge or memory. Christians speak of and produce “reasons to believe” when challenged in our faith. There cannot be found any reason to believe this account of our origins outside the instruction of Mormon leaders and the collective imagination of Mormons.
Mormons will refer to Bible texts such as Jeremiah 1: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” How, Mormons ask, could God know Jeremiah before his birth if not in a pre-mortal life? But the question is a denial of a fundamental characteristic of the omniscient God, God’s foreknowledge, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” (Isaiah 46:9-10)
There is a certain circular reasoning going on here, in which the fact of our being here is presented as evidence that we passed our pre-mortal test while, at the same time, in being here we are deliberately deprived of any memory of it that might help us get oriented on this journey, or travel it with any sure conviction.
- Immortal Life
Our immortal future depends in large part on our passing this current testing. That future is potentially to be lived in one of three more states, or “degrees of glory,” depending on our level of faithfulness and obedience. The most faithful he assures us will be gods, explaining that after death, “…there would be a resurrection or reunion of the body and the spirit, which would render us immortal and make possible our future climb toward perfection and godhood.”
Now note the following carefully:
“This resurrection has been made available to us through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of this earth, who performed this incomparable service for us – a miracle we could not perform for ourselves. Thus the way was opened for our immortality and – if we prove worthy – eventual exaltation.”
He ends with this warning that, “All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome, before a person can attain perfection and godhood. Accordingly the intent of this book is to stress the vital importance of each of us transforming his life through repentance and forgiveness.”
Make no mistake, repentance is what is needed when you fall away from the plan, walk off the map, but repentance and forgiveness does no more than put you back on track. It is like the dispensation in particular circumstances that allows you to take your exam at a later date. Generous, to be sure, but the exam must still be sat and passed. Like everyone else, you will be “saved” in the Mormon sense of being resurrected, but what every Christian might understand to be eternal life in the kingdom of God – achieved by grace, through faith in Christ “to all who believe” (Eph.2:8-9) – is in Mormonism only attainable by the strictest adherence to the plan.
“Repentance and forgiveness are part of the glorious climb toward godhood. In God’s plan, man must voluntarily make this climb, for the element of free agency is basic. Man chooses for himself, but he cannot control the penalties. They are immutable. Little children and mental incompetents are not held responsible, but all others will receive either blessing, advancements, and rewards, or penalties and deprivation, according to their reaction God’s plan when it is presented to them and to their faithfulness to that plan.”
Three things must be taken into account as you read:
First, what Mormonism offers is a replacement for Christianity. There is nothing here that remotely resembles what our Bibles teach and have taught for millennia. To make its claims Mormonism has to teach that Christianity is corrupt and that Mormons alone have the truth and the authority to teach and administer that truth. This is what they do claim and, to validate their claims, they proof-text the Bible, taking Scripture out of context to create something not found in the Bible.
Secondly, Mormons like to claim their message is so strange to us because the Bible is corrupt. The Book of Mormon speaks of, “many plain and precious things taken away from [the Bible]” (1 Nephi 13: 28) Mormons think they are offering the restoration of those things and believe our knowledge deficient because the Bible is deficient. This sets a dangerous precedent and calls into question every claim God has to being faithful and trustworthy.
Finally, and most importantly, the Bible is not deficient, nor is it silent or ambiguous, as they imagine. From the Bible we know:
The nature of God, “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God…” (1 Timothy 1:17)
His purpose in creation, “…that God may be all-in-all” (1 Cor.15:28)
What we are and are meant to be, “created in [God’s] own image” (Gen.1:27)
The reason Christ came, died, was buried and resurrected, “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Ro.5:18-19) “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim.1:15) Christ came to save us, to be the way not to show us the way (John 14:6)
How we gain this blessing for ourselves, “The word is in you, in your mouth and in your heart that is, the word of faith that we proclaim; If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Ro.10:8-10) Salvation is gained by faith and is not a universal resurrection.
What is the Miracle of Forgiveness, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace…” (Eph.1:7) The miracle is that, according to the riches of God’s grace, and by the blood of Christ, we are forgiven and redeemed, made right with God (Heb.4:14-16) Because we have confessed and believed and are now found “in him,” we have become Christians (read Ephesians 1)
What we are if we are Christian, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor.5:17) Not the old creature put back on the path but a new creature. A Christian is a new creature, not the old creature given another chance. This is the “Miracle” missing from Mormonism. This is what we want Mormons to know, even as we know it.
The destiny of man and how he is to achieve that destiny. “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Cor.5:4) The destiny of the man of faith is life in God, not life as god.
The purpose of all this, “Man’s chief purpose and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him for ever.”
There is another overview by Ann Thomas on The Mormon Chapbook and another helpful podcast from Vincent McCaan on this Mormonism Investigated blog
Mike Thomas was a Mormon for 14 years, became a Christian in 1986 and for many years worked with Reachout Trust speaking and writing about Mormonism. He still researches Mormonism and occasionally posts his thoughts on Mormon issues The Mormon Chapbook