Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 16

In the first of the sermons recorded by Mormon (in the Book of Mormon as we now have it), King Benjamin gave a magnificent discourse on Christ's suffering and atonement, the role of justice and mercy, and the need to take upon ourselves the name of Christ in a covenantal relationship—truths delivered to him "by an angel from God." fn He also stressed again that all the holy prophets have taught this, and that they, like Jarom, taught the "eternal present" of the Savior's life.

Consider these truths from King Benjamin's singular sermon:

  • Christ, who reigns "from all eternity to all eternity" would "come down from heaven among the children of men, and...dwell in a tabernacle of clay."
  • Christ would work "mighty miracles," including healing the sick and raising the dead; causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and curing all manner of diseases and casting out the evil spirits that "dwell in the hearts of the children of men."
  • The Savior would suffer temptations, hunger, thirst, fatigue, and "pain of body"—more than a man can suffer "except it be unto death."
  • In his atoning anguish, blood would come from every pore, so great would be his anguish over the sins and suffering of mankind.
  • He would be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the creator of all things from the beginning.
  • His mother would be called Mary.
  • His own people would reject him, considering him only "a man." They would accuse him of having an evil spirit, a devil, and would scourge and crucify him.
  • He would rise from the dead on the third day.
  • He would stand to judge the world with a righteous judgment, for which "all...things are done."
  • Christ's blood would atone for those who sin and are ignorant of "the will of God concerning them."
  • Repentance is required of all others who sin knowingly and "rebelleth against God."
  • Many "signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows" would be given to the house of Israel, including the law of Moses, pointing the people toward Christ's coming. Nevertheless, they would harden their hearts and stiffen their necks, failing to understand that the law of Moses "availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of [Christ's] blood."
  • There would be "no other name given nor any other way nor means" by which salvation could come. It comes only in and through "the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent."

As revelatory and detailed as these teachings are, King Benjamin linked his strongest doctrinal application of Christ's teaching to the state and circumstance of little children, those who served as such ideal objects of Christ's love and such pure examples of his humility.

Little children are not capable of sinning, King Benjamin taught, but they suffer the effects of the fall of Adam along with the rest of the mortal family. Nevertheless, Christ atones for that fall and overcomes death in their behalf: "The infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy," King Benjamin said. Indeed, adults will be punished unless they humble themselves and become as little children, believing that "salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent."

Then King Benjamin declared in a memorable passage the childlike humility and trust required of every disciple of Christ: "The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

"And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of the Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

"And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent."

King Benjamin reminded his listeners that these were not new truths, even in the second century before Christ. "The Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men," the prophet said, "to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them."

It is little wonder that those hearing the king's candid message fell to the earth and cried, "O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men." Their earnest prayer was heard and they were filled with joy, received a remission of their sins, and found peace of conscience "because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come."

As is always the case with the honest in heart, such a powerful witness of Christ evoked an honest response, and these believers sought to establish a covenant with their Savior. Expressing a "mighty change" in their hearts, they had "no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." They were willing, they declared, "to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days."

King Benjamin was delighted with this response from the congregation and informed them that in this covenant-making process, they had become "children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters." "For behold," he told them, "this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters."

More will be said later of Christ's role as "Father," but this is one way in which that title is appropriately applied to him who is customarily referred to as "Son." He is the Father of redeemed, restored, spiritual life—in short, eternal life. The faithful are born again—of Christ and by Christ and through Christ—when this mighty change wrought by him comes into their hearts. As is appropriate at the time of a new birth, a name is given, and the name the redeemed take upon themselves is "the name of Christ," evidence that all such have entered into a covenant with God that they would be obedient to the gospel to the end of their lives.

King Benjamin said of this new life and identity, "I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, . . . that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also, the name by which he shall call you." That such a name would have binding power in eternity through covenants made in mortality is made clear in this final declaration by the worthy king:

"Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all."

That this sermon carried a spiritual power beyond the clarity of the written word is undeniable, for following the close of the discourse and wishing to take "the names of all those who had entered into a covenant," this mighty servant of God realized "there was not one soul, except it were little children, but who had entered into the covenant and had taken upon them the name of Christ." Oh that we might have more such sermons, and, even more important, that all who hear them might make such honest and binding covenants as a result.

(Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 103.)

C. Max Caldwell on a 'Change of Heart':

Throughout scripture, the heart is mentioned symbolically as the repository of our feelings. After his masterful and inspired sermon, king Benjamin asked his people if they believed the words he had spoken. Their unanimous response was, "Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2; emphasis added). They continued by saying, "And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things" (Mosiah 5:5). Any previous inclination to sin or be unfaithful to covenants had been replaced with the change of their very nature. Their feelings or desires had been changed as they had partaken of the fruit of the Atonement. People who are changed internally manifest that transition through a change in behavior externally. What we are determines what we do. Outward motions are predicated upon inward emotions, or feelings.

We cannot bring about such a change in ourselves or others. It only comes from an internal conversion through the workings of the Spirit of the Lord. President Benson has said, "The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature" ("Born of God" 6).

King Benjamin was pleased with the response of his people and identified the source and nature of the change as follows: "And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7).

This spiritual rebirth is actually a third birth. The first took place in the premortal world where all were born as spirit children of heavenly parents. We were called the sons and daughters of God, and spike to and of him as our Father. Next, we came into mortality. All of us were born as physical children of earthly parents and subsequently forgot our previous residence, associations, and parentage. We received the name of our earthly fathers, and learned to speak to and of them as our father. Finally, being born again, or experiencing a spiritual rebirth, is to receive the redeeming powers of the Atonement, to be cleansed in the spirit and become innocent again, as we were at the time of our first and second births. With this rebirth comes the spirit of the Holy Ghost and the power and responsibility to remember a previously forgotten Father. We also become eventual heirs of another physical or resurrected body; therefore, we take the name of Christ in the rebirth experience, since he is the father of both processes. We then are called the sons and daughters of Christ.

When Alma experienced his own spiritual rebirth, he learned from the Lord that the requirement for spiritual rebirth pertains to all mortals:

Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-26)

Such a spiritual, internal transformation is truly described as a "mighty change."

(Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Alma, the Testimony of the Word [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1992], 35.)

Susan Easton Black on Retaining a Remission of Sins Through Service:

In an attitude of loving tenderness, king Benjamin expressed his knowledge that what his people now felt was a beginning. It was an awakening, not a fulfillment. His people had been in spiritual darkness and in a state of slumber. Just as the angel told Benjamin to "awake," Benjamin now called upon his people to "awake" (Mosiah 3:2; 4:5). They were to arise from slumbering in the types and shadows of the law of Moses to find the gospel of Christ and Christian service.

Benjamin recognized that his people had tasted of the goodness, power, wisdom, love, and glory of God. Obtaining a remission of sins had brought "exceedingly great joy in your souls," proclaimed Benjamin (Mosiah 4:11). Yet to this noble prophet, remembrance and retention of this joy was vital as well. There is a marked difference between having a taste of food and enjoying a continuing feast. King Benjamin desired that his people feast spiritually on and endure in the word of God. This feasting and enduring comes by remembering and retaining the knowledge of the greatness of God and your own nothingness. It is renewed by, "even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come" (Mosiah 4:11). As the climax of his third message Benjamin promised in surety, "If ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God; and always retain a remission of your sins" (Mosiah 4:12). In other words, they would not just taste but feast as they grew in the knowledge of glory, truth, and justice.

He promised them that this glory or love would produce peaceful coexistence in the kingdom and that this unity would be lasting because it would be upheld and sustained by righteousness. A righteous people would have no desire "to injure one another," but would desire "to render to every man according to that which is his due" (Mosiah 4:13). That which was due to every man, woman, and child, according to the prophet Benjamin, was Christlike service.

Benjamin taught that service should commence with family members. Husbands, wives, sons, and daughters were to give and receive Christian service. The prophet Benjamin focused on specific service needed by children:

And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness. But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another. (Mosiah 4:14-15)

Through the specific service outlined for parents to give to their children, the great eternal mystery of peace and happiness passes from one generation to another.

With service within the family as a foundation, the Lord counseled that service be extended to those outside the family who stand in need of succor. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated, "A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 174). The "whole human race" includes those who "stand in need of your succor" or substance, the beggar, and even "the man [who] has brought upon himself his misery' (Mosiah 4:16-17). For in actuality, all are beggars unto the Lord.

Therefore, "impart of the substance that ye have one to another" (Mosiah 4:21). If you are poor as to earthly means, Benjamin counseled, "Say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give" (Mosiah 4:24). It is apparent that Benjamin was appealing to the gathered people to give Christlike service and develop a consecrated Zion society. Each person present was to emulate more than a type and shadow of a benevolent king; each was to emulate the Savior in his earthly ministry. Benjamin commanded the people:

Impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)

As they administered their charitable service, they were to do so "in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength" (Mosiah 4:27).

(Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Mosiah: Salvation Only through Christ [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1991], 45.)

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