This third chapter is entitled ‘None Righteous, No, Not One’ and its purpose is to make it very plain that we are all sinful.
Spencer Kimball’s first point here is to suggest that, in general, people are far better at recognising the sins of others and the fact that others ought to repent, rather than looking to themselves first. As he says, “Apparently it is much easier to see those [other people’s] sins than our own, and to walk com-placently through life without acknowledging our own need to mend our ways.” I am rather surprised at this statement. Certainly, growing up Mormon, my own experience was of an awareness, perhaps even an unhealthy obsession with, my sins and own unworthiness. For the Mormon, one’s whole life is an ongoing trial and an impossible challenge along a pathway to “mend our ways” to such an extent that one day we can be exalted (i.e. become a god).
Kimball then goes on to quote a series of Bible verses that set out our sinfulness. “There is none that doeth good, no, not one”, “there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not”, “who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin?”, etc. There are a couple of other Bible selections made by Kimball in this early part of the chapter but I wish to return to his use of those verses a little later.
After supplementing the Bible verses on our sinfulness with a couple of examples from the Doctrine and Covenants, Kimball adds: “There is never a day in any man’s life when repentance is not essential to his well-being and eternal progress.” Now, whilst I would not wish to belittle the significance of re-pentance at all, I would suggest that it is unbiblical to teach that daily repentance is essential to our eternal progress. Moreover, as many people, myself included, have demonstrated on this site, the Bible doesn’t support this Mormon notion of eternal progress in any case. Our repentance is a perma-nent choice we have made, and are continuing to make in our lives; a turning towards the Lord and a turning away from sinful actions. We are turning to the Lord as a response to his sacrifice for our sins. This is a gift that we have gratefully accepted, in the knowledge that, ‘There is none that doeth good, no, not one’ and also understanding that, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:’ (Ephesians 2:8) Clearly, if someone claims to be a Christian but is never brought to a position where they are asking prayerfully for forgiveness for their sins, you have got to question their original claim. But by the same token, a daily act of repentance is not the ultimate solution to some sort of eternal outcome. What would Kimball say in the case of an individual who had sinned after doing their daily repenting, but died before the next time that they ought to do some more ‘daily repenting’? Where does the Mormon God draw the line?
Kimball states later on that, “Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection.” This leads one to reflect back on the case that Kimball made so emphatically earlier, when, using Bible verses, he demonstrated that every single person is sinful. None is righteous. So where does he get this idea that we can reach perfection? The Bible has something to say about this, but it is a very different notion to the Mormon idea of perfection being when we become gods. One of the Bible verses Kimball quoted was Romans 5:12. In Romans 5 we are given God’s real view of our sinfulness and how we can be restored to how we ought to be. Kimball quotes verse 12 to demonstrate that all have sinned, but it should come as no surprise, given that he is presenting Mormon teaching in his book and not Bible teaching, that he neglects to consider verses 17-19, which state: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” It is important to remember that humankind was made in God’s image and God saw that it was good. For God to call his work ‘good’, we know that is saying something! Yet humankind needed to be made right with God once more, after ‘the Fall’ and it is through Christ that this takes place. That is what Romans 5 is telling us. We do not become sinless by ridding ourselves of our sins. As the Bible states, none is righteous. The Bible tells us here in Romans that, “by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” Note here, be made righteous, not ‘make themselves righteous’. So perfection in Biblical terms is being ‘made righteous’. The idea is that God looks at those who are saved and sees the righteousness of the only one who truly is righteous, our Lord.
Kimball goes on to look at the life of Joseph Smith as someone who had to acknowledge and confess his own sins, the implication being that if someone as great as a chosen prophet had to work at over-coming sin, then we must also do the same. In this part Kimball uses the words of Smith himself, words well-known to Mormons: “In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature.” Kimball describes this and the rest of the account that this quote comes from ‘as a simple and honest confession’, but could it not also come across as someone trying to make excuses or minimising their own sinfulness? You’re either sinful or not according to the Bible. Surely, when making a confession, a man of God should come across as having a bit more humility. Interestingly, in this section about Joseph Smith and the importance of his efforts to lead an exemplary life, Kimball quotes D & C 3:4, “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal de-sires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.” I find this a fascinating quote be-cause, with hindsight one could see this as Joseph Smith condemning himself, since there are well-known quotations where Joseph Smith boasts of his achievements, even putting himself above Jesus. Of course, as well as this, Smith followed ‘after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires’, this proving eventually to be his final downfall.
In this section, Kimball illustrates well the sense of ‘fear of failure’ that many Mormons feel. He says, “Every person is subject to error if he is not always watchful, for victory over Satan is attained only by constant vigilance.” What a statement for a leader (who later became a prophet) of the one true Christian church to make. We achieve victory over Satan only by constant vigilance. Really? Doesn’t Jesus fit into this picture somewhere?
Before concluding chapter 3, Kimball wants us to know that he has seen an awful lot of Mormons and wants them all to know that he has spotted them doing an awful of naughty things! He takes up five paragraphs, roughly a quarter of the chapter, detailing many examples of behaviour by LDS members that he doesn’t like. There are about fifteen sentences in this section beginning with, “I find”, “I saw”, “I have seen”, or “There are those/ some” where he outlines actions such as being unloving parents or spouses, gossiping and divisive church members, people speaking unkindly to others and questioning the motives of each other and church leaders. Considering the fact that this chapter begins with an important reminder to focus on one’s own need for repentance rather than looking at others, this lengthy bout of finger-pointing seems to me quite distasteful and hypocritical.
I wanted to end this review with another stark example of Kimball’s technique of pulling Bible verses out of their context and throwing them into his own context to make a completely different point. As I stated earlier, Kimball begins the chapter talking about ‘our own need to mend our ways’ and uses many Bible verses to demonstrate that all of us are sinners. The first example he gives is two verses from 1 John 1, which are presented like this, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Sounds fair enough right? But of course check the verses used in brackets: verse 8 and verse 10. How about looking directly at 1 John 1 and reading verses 7 – 10 inclusive this time? “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
So what has been removed in Kimball’s quote? Well, the gospel in a nutshell basically. God is faithful, just and forgives our sins, and cleanses us from all sin/ unrighteousness through the blood of Jesus. In Kimball’s teaching we must mend our own ways in order to reach perfection (which means becoming a god). This is another gospel. This is the ‘impossible gospel’ of the LDS church and it is not based around what the Bible tells us about sin and how God wishes to deal with sin. As Proverbs 20:9 puts it, “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from sin?”