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29

Forgiveness Is like Mercy

Relief Society General Conference

Assembly Hall, Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

Thursday, April 3, 1924


Lucy Jane “Jennie” Brimhall Knight (1875–1957) served a mission to Great Britain from April to November 1898 as one of the first single sister missionaries in the church. Her mission companion and future sister-in-law, Inez Knight, served from April 1898 until June 1900.1 As a missionary, Jennie spoke at meetings throughout the British Isles and spent several weeks on the European continent. According to an early history, her missionary work with Inez looked just like that of the elders with whom they served: “visiting, tracting, preaching, and exerting themselves to the utmost to spread a knowledge of the truth respecting their religion and their people.”2

Jennie Knight married Jesse Knight on January 18, 1899, and received a pedagogy degree from the General Church Board of Education in May 1899. She served five years as president of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association in the Taylor Stake in Raymond, Alberta, Canada, and eight years in the same position for the Utah Stake when she returned to Provo, Utah.3 She also engaged in public work supporting women and education, serving as matron of Brigham Young University from the fall of 1907 to the spring of 1911, with the assignment to see to the welfare of female students.4 During World War I, Knight was vice president of the State Council of Defense, Woman’s Division.5

Jennie Brimhall Knight with sons Philip and Richard

Jennie Brimhall Knight with sons Philip and Richard. Circa 1916. Some eighteen years before this photo was taken, Knight was one of the first single female church members to serve as a missionary. Photograph by Larson and Bygreen. (Photograph in family possession. Courtesy Jennifer Whatcott Hooton.)

Knight joined the Relief Society general presidency on April 1, 1921, as first counselor to President Clarissa S. Williams.6 She continued to live in Provo after joining the general presidency, traveling to Salt Lake City each week for board meetings and throughout the church to attend stake Relief Society conventions.7 Her journal chronicles her management of Relief Society and home responsibilities and notes her family members’ contributions.8 One day in 1922, for example, she recorded that she returned home from church duties after midnight, checked on her sleeping family members, and crept into bed. She woke the next morning to clean house and can peaches and then left again the next week to fulfill her church responsibilities in far-flung towns.9

Knight’s service on the board involved not only speaking at local congregations but also participating in broader, national causes. In 1923, she traveled by train with Relief Society general secretary Amy Brown Lyman to attend a weeklong social welfare convention and a planning meeting for the National Council of Women in Washington DC.10 She would return to Washington in 1925 to represent the Relief Society at a meeting of the International Council of Women.11 Knight drew on her experience examining human nature and teaching church principles when she delivered the following contemplation of forgiveness at a 1924 Relief Society general conference.

Many splendid lessons have been given during this conference, and I am sure many resolutions have been renewed with the effect that we shall be better leaders, better pace-setters in our different communities, more sympathetic sisters, more devoted wives, and more understanding mothers.

The group assembled here today belongs to the class of women who have no time to be idle, no time to indulge in those things which we have been taught are a waste of time and not conducive to advancement. Our aim is to serve and in that service find joy in this life, and eternal life in the world to come.

Along the path of life that leads to happiness are many pitfalls which must be avoided if we reach our goal. One of these pitfalls I shall call unforgiveness. By it stands a little mound of forgiveness which, if mounted, will lift us above the petty things of life to see a bigger, broader plain and a well-defined path.

There are many actions of men and women of which we do not approve, take part in, or sanction, and while it is our mission to do all we can in the spirit of real charity and sisterly love to show the better way, the more perfect plan of peace, we need not hate our fellow beings because their ways are not ours. We must let our Father judge them.

The word of the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith, recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, says, “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 according to thy deeds.’”12

I heard the other day of a woman who lived on the same street as her father and yet she had not spoken to him for many years. I heard also a Relief Society president who, upon learning that one of the members of the society was offended because of some action on the part of the presidency of the Relief Society, went to the home of this sister and tried to talk matters over, to apologize, if necessary, and make things right, but this sister could find no place in her heart for forgiveness and so the president turned away sorrowing for that sister. Which of the two women would be happiest today? My father has often said: “Hate hurts the hater worse than the hated.”13

Peter, on one occasion, said to Jesus, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” And Jesus said unto him, “I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.” Then he said, “Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants, and one was brought unto him which owed him ten thousand talents, but forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant, therefore, fell down and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the Lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him and forgave him the debt.

“But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants which owed him an hundred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison.

“So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they were very sorry and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then the lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredst me: Shouldst not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him unto the tormentors till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brothers their trespasses.”14

Is it not a truth that Jesus taught us to pray: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us?15

Martin Luther commenting on this said, “When thou sayest, ‘I will not forgive,’ and stand before God with your paternoster, and mumblest, ‘Forgive us our debts,’ it is the same as saying, ‘I do not forgive him, so do not thou, God, forgive me.’”16

In our homes let us not hold grudges one toward another, but seek and pray daily to find a way to forgive one another, remembering that forgiveness is like mercy, “It is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that receives.”17 If we could become as little children in this particular how much happier we would be, for whoever knew a little child who was not willing to forgive at the very first intimation of regret on the part of the offender; yes, and even before any repentance was shown on the part of the one who committed the offense. Did not God say, “Except ye become as little children ye can in no wise enter the kingdom of God”?18

To those who have been sorely tried and bitterly offended, remember it requires a prayerful, generous, and merciful heart coupled with a strong will to forgive, but remember also, an unforgiving heart places a barrier between itself and God’s forgiveness, for is it not written, “He that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses, standeth condemned before the Lord, for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”19

So let us each and all bury our grievances whether they pertain to our immediate family, our church, or our neighbor, and cover this pitfall that deprives us of happiness with a slab of forgetfulness and forgive as we hope to be forgiven.

Footnotes

  1. [1]Calvin S. Kunz, “A History of Female Missionary Activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830–1898” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1976), 34–37, 54; Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936), 4:177–179. Brimhall’s family insisted that she return for fear that damp winter weather in England would cause recurrence of the pneumonia she had previously suffered. (Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon and Sons, 1904], 4:615.)

  2. [2]Whitney, History of Utah, 4:614.

  3. [3]“Mrs. Jennie Brimhall Knight,” Relief Society Magazine 8, no. 7 (July 1921): 380–381; Whitney, History of Utah, 4:615.

  4. [4]Lillian C. Booth, “Research Made during the Summer of 1956 on Matron, Dean of Women, and Counselor for Women,” 1, 7–8, CHL. The first Matron of Women on record at Brigham Young University was Zina Presendia Young Card, who held the post from 1879 to 1884. The university, initially named Brigham Young Academy, was founded in November 1875. (Booth, “Research Made during the Summer of 1956,” 1–2; Ernest L. Wilkinson, ed., Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 4 vols. [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1975], 1:66.)

  5. [5]Inez Knight Allen, “Jennie Brimhall Knight,” Relief Society Magazine 15, no. 12 (Dec. 1928): 647. After its formation in August 1916, the Council of National Defense requested that each state form its own Council of Defense to help coordinate activities “for the general good of the nation and the successful prosecution of the war.” In response, Utah formed a state council on April 26, 1917. Governor Simon Bamberger formed the Committee on Women’s Work on August 3, 1917, to direct women’s war efforts; Knight served on this committee. (Noble Warrum, Utah in the World War: The Men behind the Guns and the Men and Women behind the Men behind the Guns [Salt Lake City: Arrow Press, 1924], 86–87, 121.)

  6. [6]Knight served as a counselor to Williams until Williams’s release in October 1928 and then continued on the board until 1939. (Mary Jane Groberg Fritzen, Lucy Jane [Jennie] Brimhall Knight: An Expression of Love and Gratitude for Her Exemplary Life [Idaho Falls, ID: Delbert V. and Jennie H. Groberg, 1997], 4, 42.)

  7. [7]Allen, “Jennie Brimhall Knight,” 647; Fritzen, Lucy Jane (Jennie) Brimhall Knight, 42, 106.

  8. [8]Fritzen, Lucy Jane (Jennie) Brimhall Knight, 4, 105. Knight’s grandniece wrote in her biography that Knight also hired babysitting and household help. (Fritzen, Lucy Jane [Jennie] Brimhall Knight, 4.)

  9. [9]This entry was likely written in September. (Fritzen, Lucy Jane [Jennie] Brimhall Knight, 48, 49.)

  10. [10]Fritzen, Lucy Jane (Jennie) Brimhall Knight, 49.

  11. [11]Fritzen, Lucy Jane (Jennie) Brimhall Knight, 49; Allen, “Jennie Brimhall Knight,” 647.

  12. [12]Doctrine and Covenants 64:10–11.

  13. [13]Knight’s father, George Brimhall, was president of Brigham Young University from 1904 to 1921. (Wilkinson, Brigham Young University, 1:382, 519.)

  14. [14]See Matthew 18:21–35.

  15. [15]See Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4; and 3 Nephi 13:11.

  16. [16]The paternoster is the Lord’s Prayer, as recorded in Luke, chapter 11, and Matthew, chapter 6. A version of this quotation similar to the one Knight used can be found in J. R. Miller, The Golden Gate of Prayer: Devotional Studies on the Lord’s Prayer (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1900), 185.

  17. [17]William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, act 4, sc. 1, ll. 192–193.

  18. [18]See Matthew 18:3; and 3 Nephi 11:38.

  19. [19]Doctrine and Covenants 64:9.