By Cordell and Janice Vail
25 May 2003
A weekly email gospel message for the descendents of Ammon and Winona Vail
We often talk about repentance and forgiveness. We seldom talk about the concept of exoneration as it relates to forgiveness. It is a doctrinal fact that there are only two unforgivable sins. They are denying the Holy Ghost and murder. Other than for those two transgressions, if we truly repent that we can be totally forgiven. The Lord Himself says that if we truly repent of our sins, He will remember them no more.
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
This discussion will not include anything about the transgressions of denying the Holy Ghost or murder. We will save that for a different Sunday Sermon. We will only discuss hear the concept of exoneration and how it relates to the definition of forgiveness.
When we say that we have repented and been forgiven what does that mean? If the Lord says that He remembers no more does that mean that it is the same as though it never happened? In most cases that is the case. However there are things that we can do in our lives that can change the meaning of forgiveness as we normally think of it. To gain an understanding of the concept of forgiveness as it relates to exoneration, let us start by rehearsing the story of something that happened to Elder Orson Pratt in Nauvoo.
According to the History of the Church Elder Pratt was ordained an Apostle, April 26, 1835. Later he became upset with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated Aug. 20, 1842. A few months later he repented and asked Joseph’s forgiveness. He was then re-baptized and re-ordained an Apostle, June 20, 1943. When he was re-baptized and re-ordained an apostle, his seniority in the quorum of the twelve was adjusted to date of second entry into the Quorum. Why is that significant? Because Elder John Taylor was ordained an apostle in December 1838 and became the President of the Church in 1880. Orson Pratt died in 1881. With a little calculation of numbers there you can see that Orson Pratt would have been the senior Apostle in 1880 and ordained the President of the Church rather than John Taylor had he not been excommunicated.
The question here then is was Orson Pratt truly forgiven for rebelling against Joseph Smith in 1843? The answer is yes. He was totally forgiven, re-baptized and re-ordained an apostle. He served many missions for the church and was one of it’s greatest leaders. He was completely and totally forgiven of what he did. But that does not mean that he received all the blessings that he could have received had he not made the mistake. He never received back all that he had lost. He lost he seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve and that could not be regained no matter how much he repented. He was "FORGIVEN" but he was not necessarily "EXONERATED" from all that he had done.
Sometimes we do things that we can be forgiven for but we do not get the blessings we lost by having not done what we did. There could be many examples given of that in our own life. Here are just a few examples where total forgiveness can be received and yet some blessings still not obtained that could have been had. A simple example would be if you decided when you were young that you would never do something (break some certain commandment like swearing) and then you do something that is breaking that commandment, you can not ever again say that you have not that. A more serious example would be if you say or do things that causes you to lose the respect of your spouse or children. It is possible that no matter how much you repent of that and receive forgiveness for yourself, it may not be possible to undo the damage that those actions caused to the emotions of others. Another example would be if you start drinking and smoking. You can stop. You can repent and be totally forgiven but you can never again regain your health if it caused you to get cancer or destroyed your liver.
There are other more serious transgressions that could be used as examples here. If you are immoral and lose your virtue, can you can repent and be totally forgiven? YES! You can be totally forgiven. You can not however ever get your virtue back. Once lost it can never be regained. You can still have all the blessings of exaltation in the next life you would have received before if you truly repent, but you can not ever say that you have not lost your virtue. More serious than that is if a baby becomes a part of the immorality. Again you can repent and be forgiven but you can not send the baby back. As long as you ever live that baby will be a part of your life. So you can repent and make a good home and family for the baby but you can not send it back. You can be forgiven but in that sense not exonerated to the point of being as though it never happened. You can be forgiven but you can not ever be exonerated to the point of it not having happened. That does not stop you from receiving all the blessing you could have received in the next life. It just is not possible to change some things in this life.
One last example. When an abortion is involved in that immorality then there are even more blessings that are lost that can not be regained in this life. You can not give back the life that was taken no matter how much you repent. Additionally, there are other blessings lost. The church has taken the stand that abortion is not murder so it can be forgiven. However if a person (male or female) is involved in any way either having an abortion or assisting in the abortion they can never serve on a full time mission for the church the rest of their lives. You can repent and be forgiven and still go to the celestial kingdom in the next life, but you can not serve a mission for the church. It is just a blessing that is lost. It does not stop you from receiving your exaltation in the next life. It is just a lost blessing in this life.
So we see from these examples that there are some blessings that you can not regain in this life even when you have repented and been totally forgiven.
We do not need to belabor this point with examples here. It is just important to understand that sometimes when we fail to keep a commandment or be obedient to the counsel of the Lord that there are blessings that we lose that we can not regain. That does not keep us from receiving the highest reward of this life, exaltation. It just means that there are some blessings that we could have had that we do not now have and can not have.
Exoneration is an impotent concept in my life as a preventive measure. Many times when I have been tempted to do something that I should not, I have gained the strength to not do it by thinking about the principle of exoneration. I have many times gained strength to not do something by saying to myself things like, "If I do that, then I can never again in this life or the next say that I have never done that", or "If I do that, no matter what I do to repent, I can never again be like I was before I did that", or "If I do that then I can not say I have truly repented." My patriarchal blessing says, "Guard and cherish virtue because once lost, it can never be regained." That counsel concerning exoneration in my patriarchal blessing has been a wonderful pillar of light in guiding me through out my life.