There Remaineth In Him the Greater Sin

The Lord said this to the elders of His church in 1831: “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:9). I used to believe that this phrase that for one who forgives not His brother “there remaineth in him the greater sin” meant that the Lord was comparing the sin of not forgiving another person to the sin of that person. I took it to perhaps mean that it was worse to not forgive some particular sin (in someone else) than to actually commit that sin ourselves. Knowing the general teaching of the scriptures that the “worst” sin is the denying of the Holy Ghost for which there is no forgiveness (e.g. Doctrine and Covenants 76:34-35, Alma 39:5-6), I would then reason like George Cantor did with the cardinality of sets in mathematics. He discovered that even if you have an infinite set, you can get a “bigger” set if you take the set of all subsets of that set. For example, the set A of all integers is infinite, but the cardinality (size) of the set B of all subsets of A is strictly greater than that. And the set C of all subsets of set B is likewise strictly bigger than set B, and it goes on forever. So I would think, what is the worst sin? If we interpret the above passage as I did to mean that not forgiving a particular sin is somehow worse than committing that sin itself, I would say the worst sin is to not forgive someone who has denied the Holy Ghost. But wait, with that logic, it would be even worse to not forgive someone who has not forgiven someone who has denied the Holy Ghost…. And we could go on forever in that manner, but of course that’s totally ridiculous. My point is that we cannot reasonably interpret this passage in Doctrine and Covenants 64:9 as the Lord comparing the sin of not forgiving with another person’s sin—it leads to a totally illogical conclusion.

The Lord’s point, I believe, is that if we refuse to forgive there will remain in us sins that we would otherwise not have. The Lord is not comparing the sins of two people but rather the state of our souls if we forgive vs. if we refuse to forgive. If we don’t forgive then there remains in us a greater number of sins just as the previous statement in the same verse suggests: “He that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord.” I don’t believe the Savior is concerned about comparing our sins to other people’s sins, but He is concerned that we learn to forgive in order to receive forgiveness of our sins. If we struggle to forgive someone who has committed terrible atrocities, that cannot mean that we are somehow guilty of a more serious evil, but it might mean that we struggle to find forgiveness of our own sins until we can fully forgive in our hearts. In the subsequent verses of this same revelation the Lord gave us this instruction, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds” (v10-11). His instruction here is to precisely not compare ourselves to others but to simply forgive in our hearts and let Him be the judge of others. The glorious message of the gospel is that all can find forgiveness through the Savior and repentance, and as we forgive others we will find there remains in us fewer sins because He will forgive us too.

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The little-known Nephite writer Chemish left us one verse in the Book of Mormon (Omni 1:9) with no profound testimony given or great doctrine expounded. But in his short paragraph the verb "write" appears five times in one of its forms, and he witnessed simply of his brother's words and the Nephite need to write: "After this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers." So after the manner of Chemish I venture to keep my own record here of my journey through the scriptures. My hope is that it will encourage any who pass this way to spend more of their own time with the word of God.

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