The Lord spoke to the boy prophet in the Sacred Grove and said, “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.”1 Thus blessed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith extended that godly trait of forgiveness to others. “Ever keep in exercise the principle of mercy,” he taught, “and be ready to forgive our brother on the first intimations of repentance, and asking forgiveness; and should we even forgive our brother, or even our enemy, before he repent or ask forgiveness, our heavenly Father would be equally as merciful unto us.”2
After turning against the Prophet in Missouri, which brought additional persecution, William W. Phelps3 wrote a letter and begged the Prophet to forgive him. “Inasmuch as long-suffering, patience, and mercy have ever characterized the dealings of our heavenly Father towards the humble and penitent,” Joseph wrote back, “I feel disposed to copy the example, cherish the same principles, and by so doing be a savior of my fellow men. . . .
“Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice over the returning prodigal. . . .
“‘Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, / For friends at first, are friends again at last.’”4
Joseph’s forgiveness won William’s unmeasured devotion. “Praise to his mem’ry,” Phelps later wrote of the Prophet. “Honored and blest be his ever great name!”5
Joseph Smith Quotes
“One of the most pleasing scenes that can occur on earth, when a sin has been committed by one person against another, is, to forgive that sin; and then according to the sublime and perfect pattern of the Savior, pray to our Father in heaven to forgive him also” (History of the Church, 6:245).
“To the iniquitous show yourselves merciful. . . . Beware, be still, be prudent, repent, reform, but do it in a way not to destroy all around you. I do not want to cloak iniquity—all things contrary to the will of God, should be cast from us, but don’t do more hurt than good, with your tongues—be pure in heart. Jesus designs to save the people out of their sins. . . . I want the innocent to go free—rather spare ten iniquitous among you, than condemn one innocent one. ‘Fret not thyself because of evil doers.’ God will see to it” (History of the Church, 5:20–21; paragraph divisions altered).
“Ever keep in exercise the principle of mercy, and be ready to forgive our brother on the first intimations of repentance, and asking forgiveness; and should we even forgive our brother, or even our enemy, before he repent or ask forgiveness, our heavenly Father would be equally as merciful unto us” (History of the Church, 3:383).
Willard Richards, Apostle, 1840–1854
“Joseph remarked that all was well between him and the heavens: that he had no enmity against any one; and as the prayer of Jesus, or his pattern, so prayed Joseph—‘Father, forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me,’ for I freely forgive all men. If we would secure and cultivate the love of others, we must love others, even our enemies as well as friends” (History of the Church, 5:498).
George Q. Cannon, Apostle, 1860–1901
“With his staunch advocacy of truth, and his unyielding adherence to the commandments of God, Joseph was ever merciful to the weak and the erring. During the summer of 1835, he was laboring in councils and meetings in Kirtland and vicinity, and was chosen to take part in the proceedings against several members who were to be tried for utterances made against the presidency of the Church. Whether it fell to his lot to plead the cause of the accused or to prosecute, though he himself might have been the one who was wronged, he acted with so much tenderness and justice that he won the love of all” (Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet (1958), 200–201).
How willing was Joseph Smith to forgive others?
“One scene,” remembered Daniel Tyler, “was particularly touching, and showed the goodness of the [Prophet’s] heart.” A man of prominence in the Church lost his faith for a time in Far West but later sought the Prophet’s forgiveness in Quincy, Illinois. He set out to see the Prophet “with a sorrowful heart and downcast look.” But the Lord told Joseph the man was coming, and Joseph watched for him through the window. “As soon as he turned to open the gate the Prophet sprang up from his chair and ran and met him in the yard, exclaiming, ‘O Brother . . . , how glad I am to see you!’ He caught him around the neck and both wept like children.” Reconciled with the Prophet and the Church, this man “gathered with the Saints in Zion and died in full faith” (in “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor, Aug. 15, 1892, 491).
Did Joseph Smith really preach forgiveness to a mob that tarred and feathered him in Hiram, Ohio?
On March 24, 1832, an angry mob dragged the Prophet from his home, beat him severely, and left him covered with tar and feathers. Joseph spoke with a slight lisp the rest of his life because of a tooth that was chipped during that assault. “My friends spent the night in scraping and removing the tar, and washing and cleansing my body,” Joseph later recalled. The following morning being the Sabbath, the Saints gathered, and among them were many from the previous night’s mob. Joseph paid them no heed. “With my flesh all scarified and defaced,” he noted, “I preached to the congregation as usual, and in the afternoon of the same day baptized three individuals” (History of the Church, 1:264).
Online Resources at ChurchofJesusChrist.org
Online Resources at BYU
“A More Virtuous Man Never Existed on the Footstool of the Great Jehovah: George Miller on Joseph Smith”—Lyndon W. Cook, BYU Studies, vol. 19, no. 3 (1979), 402–7
Letter witnessing to the character and whereabouts of Joseph Smith in the matter of the assassination attempt on Lilburn W. Boggs.
“‘A Man That You Could Not Help Likeing’: Joseph Smith and Nauvoo, Illinois, Portrayed in a Letter by Susannah and George W. Taggart”—Ronald O. Barney, BYU Studies, vol. 40, no. 2 (2001), 165–79
Description of Joseph and the conditions in Nauvoo.