“Book of Mormon Principles: King Benjamin on the Atonement,” Ensign, Apr. 2004, 13–17
Have you ever wondered what you would say if you were asked to give your “last lecture” to your family, friends, or coworkers? On college campuses and in other settings, prominent teachers, leaders, and thinkers often receive a request to deliver a “last lecture.” Such a request is an invitation for someone to compile thoughts and contributions and share with students the distillation of his or her thinking and the most important message he or she would leave to posterity if it were, indeed, the last opportunity. The scriptures are full of “last lectures.” Remember Jacob blessing his sons, Lehi speaking to his family before his death, Abinadi before King Noah, and the Savior with His disciples at the Last Supper?
The powerful sermon of King Benjamin in the first chapters of the book of Mosiah might be seen as one such lecture. Mosiah, the son of King Benjamin, was asked by his father to organize the setting and audience for this address. Mosiah called the people together, and they came in great numbers, bringing their entire families and also bringing the firstlings of their flocks that they might offer sacrifice according to the law of Moses. Each man pitched his tent with the door toward the temple so his family could hear what King Benjamin would say. A tower was erected for him to speak from because the number of families was so great that they couldn’t all be accommodated within the walls of the temple. Even then, as he spoke, it was necessary to write his words and send them forth for those who could not get close enough to hear his voice. (See Mosiah 2:1–8.)
In his message King Benjamin announced that Mosiah, his son, would be king in his place. He assured the people that if they kept the commandments of God, which Mosiah would teach them, they would prosper in the land even as they had under his leadership. He reminded them of the important things he had taught them and the happy state of those who keep the commandments of God. And then he began to teach them what an angel of God had taught him. The message is a familiar one to us and is the most important one we can hear—it was “glad tidings of great joy” (Mosiah 3:3). The angel’s message was that the Lord Omnipotent would come to earth in a “tabernacle of clay” (Mosiah 3:5), go forth among men to teach and bless them, be crucified, rise again on the third day, and later judge the world. As Savior, He would atone for those who sinned ignorantly, for little children, and for all who have sinned knowingly if they repent of their sins and have faith in Him. Indeed, there is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17).
In those times when the gospel has not been on the earth, many people lived whose hearts would have turned to the Lord if they had heard His message. Because of King Benjamin’s sermon we understand that whatever opportunity they need to make things right with the Lord, they will have it, thanks to the Atonement (see Mosiah 3:11). Even when the gospel is on the earth, people become responsible for heeding its teachings only as they are taught and receive a witness of its truthfulness from the Holy Ghost.
Latter-day Saints have the example of Alvin Smith, oldest brother of the Prophet Joseph, to further explain this concept. In his vision of the celestial kingdom, Joseph saw his brother Alvin along with some of the prophets of old. Joseph marveled at how Alvin had obtained such an inheritance since he had died before the Restoration and had not been baptized for the remission of his sins. The Lord answered:
“All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
“Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
“For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:7–9).
Little children are likewise blessed through the Atonement. King Benjamin’s concern for children is especially impressive in his sermon. He believes that little children are not capable of sin, but even so, as they have come to a fallen world, they need the Atonement and could not be saved without it (see Mosiah 3:16). King Benjamin makes it very clear that little children are saved by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and have no need of repentance.
When people are in an apostate condition—without the truth of the restored gospel—this doctrine is often misunderstood. Mormon reiterates in his troubled times that “little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world” (Moro. 8:12) and need no baptism to be saved. Modern revelation also affirms that “all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven” (D&C 137:10).
Numerous individuals have tender stories regarding the loss of an infant child. The parents and sometimes the siblings have individually borne testimony of a sweet peace that came to touch their sorrowing hearts. Many have been reassured in heavenly ways that the spirit of their loved one yet lives and has inherited a better place. Especially sweet is the witness that the child is bound to the family eternally, thanks to gospel ordinances.
King Benjamin also declared that even those who sin and know that they rebel against God when they do—and that might include most of us at some stage of our lives—can be saved through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ because of the Atonement. The Atonement covers all of us unconditionally as it rescues us from the Fall of Adam and guarantees our resurrection. But for each of us who is accountable, the Atonement is conditional as far as our individual sins are concerned. Each of us is touched individually by the Atonement to the degree that we have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, and yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.1
In Mosiah 3:19, King Benjamin gives us one of the best descriptions of what each of us must do to put off the natural man and become a true follower of Christ:
“For 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.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said this verse “has a fulness and specificity unrivaled in all of scripture. In my opinion, if King Benjamin had uttered only the words in Mosiah 3:19, the verse would still rank among the great gems in all our scriptures.”2
The message King Benjamin gave to the families who listened to him in those long-ago days is clear and current for us today. We all have seen children who are meek, patient, and full of love, just as we have seen pride, impatience, and recalcitrance. As we read this verse, is it not easy to see ourselves as children of a loving Father and understand just how “childlike” we are or ought to be?
How wonderful that Mormon, the faithful abridger and compiler of the Book of Mormon, gave us King Benjamin’s “last lecture,” one of the most powerful in scripture, in King Benjamin’s own words. It is beautiful, succinct, simple, yet amazingly complex. Here is another wonderful Book of Mormon witness that the ancient prophets, even before the time of Christ, knew of His coming and His mission. Time and again they assured the people that even though Christ had not yet come to the earth and they must still keep the law of Moses, His promises were sure and His Atonement was effective for them. These glad tidings of great joy were had among the people of Nephi long before He came to visit them after His Resurrection.
Reading King Benjamin’s sermon may cause us to reflect once again on our indebtedness to the Lord for giving us such scripture. The Book of Mormon came to us from the hands of ancient prophets through the hand of a modern prophet who translated it by the gift and power of God. What a blessing it is to have the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ and of His great atoning sacrifice.
Invite family members to prepare and briefly present what they would say if it were the last time they could speak with the family. Then read together the first paragraph of this article. Using the Mosiah 2–5 chapter headings, ask them to find the topics King Benjamin included in his “last lecture.” Discuss why these topics are important today.
Using sections 2–4 of this article and Mosiah 3:11–22, ask family members to make three lists summarizing what the gospel teaches about these groups: those who sin ignorantly, little children, and those who sin knowingly. How does sin affect each of these kinds of people? Invite family members to express their feelings about the Atonement.
Show a picture of King Benjamin and read the section “Those Who Sin Knowingly.” Discuss what it means to become “as a child” (see Mosiah 3:19). Bear testimony of principles in this article you feel apply to your family.