King Benjamin’s Manual of Discipleship


Neal A. Maxwell
In his speech at the temple, King Benjamin taught us how to become saints through the atonement of Christ.

King Benjamin’s Manual of Discipleship

In the process of selecting and editing the material we now know as the Book of Mormon, the prophet-editor Mormon chose to include things he found “pleasing.” (W of M 1:4.) Nothing could have pleased him more than the remarkable sermon of King Benjamin: a sermon, said Mormon, which was “choice unto me,” among the prophesyings and revelations he found as he “searched among the records which had been delivered into [his] hands.” (W of M 1:3, 6.) How blessed we are that of the less than one-hundredth part chosen from among those abundant records, Benjamin’s sermon was included by Mormon, who knew that these words would be equally choice unto his latter-day brethren. (See W of M 1:6.)

Standing at a point in history centuries after both King Benjamin’s sermon and that great epochal event—the coming of Christ to a small group in the Western Hemisphere—Mormon had a keen appreciation for Benjamin’s timeless and relevant sermon. In fact, he regarded Benjamin as “a holy man.” (W of M 1:17.)

In addition to witnessing to the realities of the Heavenly King and of Jesus’ role as Savior, King Benjamin’s remarkable sermon gives us a unique view of how this prophet-king understood the developmental process of serious discipleship. By following its key precepts, the faithful are lovingly counselled in the path of righteousness. Benjamin’s speech reveals the nature of divine discipleship as it can be displayed only by one who has become a saint through the atoning blood of Christ.

Casting off the natural man and struggling to become a follower of Christ is the disciple’s first step. It is delineated by Benjamin with a specificity and intensity that make this sermon one of the greatest on record.

“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.” (Mosiah 3:19.)

By juxtaposing these lines from Benjamin’s sermon with the Savior’s words concerning the childlikeness required to enter the celestial kingdom, we are admitted into a wondrous but demanding realm of understanding regarding developmental discipleship: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3.)

We can begin to sense the specific demands of discipleship in terms of the virtues Benjamin encourages his listeners to develop: meekness, humility, patience, love, spiritual submissiveness.

Presumably, Alma the younger, a few decades later, read and memorized King Benjamin’s words. Speaking spontaneously to the wicked people of Ammonihah, he said,

“But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering.” (Alma 13:28.)

Alma added the quality of being “long-suffering” (see also Alma 7:23), but otherwise Benjamin’s developmental directions stand before us in arresting clarity.

Imprisoned and abused by misused political, judicial, and military power, Joseph Smith was similarly told in Liberty Jail about the qualities God desires in his leaders and people: such qualities as persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, and kindness. (See D&C 121:41–42.)

Hence we see the need to allow for those times in our lives when God utilizes tutorial suffering in order to further such specific individual development.

Granted, it is a “hard saying” to point out the need for such spiritual submissiveness. Yet Peter so preached as to the shaping role of suffering and adversity:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

“Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

“Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” (1 Pet. 4:12, 16, 19; emphasis added.)

Certain afflictions and temptations are the common lot of mankind: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13); “The same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:9). Additionally, however, there are tutorial sufferings of the innocent, as both Benjamin and Peter declare. (See Mosiah 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:12.) There is “undeserved” agony. There is “unearned” anguish which is unrelated to error, and which the disciple will experience.

Even so, the Christian knows he is in the hands of a merciful but tutoring God whose intent is that for developmental and salvational reasons, the disciple be “added upon.” Benjamin repeatedly cites the goodness, love, long-suffering, and mercy of God. True prophets have always understood the character and attributes of God. “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” (Ex. 34:6.)

In his address (see Mosiah 2), Benjamin, who once wielded the sword of Laban in battle for his people and who is an authentic military and political hero, demonstrates that he is resolutely and consistently unconcerned with the “perks” of office. He is determined to remain to the end a leader-servant. He even encourages others to equate service to their fellowman with service to their God. (See Mosiah 2:17.) With unquestioned, on-the-record humility, Benjamin justifiably describes himself as a servant-king. (See Mosiah 2:18.)

Who could more candidly do what Benjamin did in reminding us of the generous blessings of God, which are so abundant that even if we render full service to Him, yet we are “unprofitable servants”? (Mosiah 2:21.)

At first reading, these last words may sound harsh, depreciating, and discouraging, for surely our service to God is significant. But when our service is compared with our blessings, an “outside audit,” said Benjamin in effect, would show us ever to be in arrears. “Catching up” by giving more service does not change the balance, either, because a merciful God, just as soon as we obey or render such service, “doth immediately bless” us. Thus, we are even further in debt to our Heavenly Father. (Mosiah 2:24.) Furthermore, our service is made possible by the elements which make up our natural bodies, but these belong to God, who also gives us breath from moment to moment.

The stage is thus set by Benjamin for urging us to render to God all that we have, through the consecration of our time and our talents and ourselves to God and to our fellowman. Then, if we really consecrate ourselves to Him, that consecrated self will be in the steady process of becoming like the Savior, attribute by attribute. This objective—knowing and becoming like the Master—is at the heart of King Benjamin’s valedictory address.

We are next reminded of the “awful situation” we will experience if, having spiritual knowledge, we then engage in “open rebellion.” (Mosiah 2:37, 40.) For such individuals, even the mercy of a perfectly merciful God can have no claim. (See Mosiah 2:39.) So we see that while the gospel gives us needed identity, it also brings severe accountability.

King Benjamin described how crucial scriptural records are in establishing such accountability. (See Mosiah 2:34.) Through sacred records, disciples become aware of the commandments of God and of the testimonies of leaders, present and past. When straying disciples transgress, they are, in effect, going “contrary to [their] own knowledge.” (See Mosiah 2:33.)

In this respect, what of the current generation of Latter-day Saints, blessed as we are with the convenient new publications of the scriptures? Are we safe from the indictment of our predecessors who took the Book of Mormon “lightly”? (See D&C 84:54, 57.)

By studying Mosiah chapter 3, we learn that an angel had actually instructed and tutored King Benjamin concerning the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth to dwell, to perform miracles, to serve, and to suffer. King Benjamin was even given a highly privileged revelation concerning the name of that Savior, Jesus Christ, as well as the name of his mother, Mary. (See Mosiah 3:8.)

Yet, alas, declared King Benjamin, those living during the time of Jesus’ mortal Messiahship and later would still consider the King of Kings, Christ, merely a man. (See Mosiah 3:9.) King Benjamin stressed that though some, in gross ignorance, would crucify Jesus Christ, He bears the only name under heaven whereby people can be saved.

The judgment of God will focus particularly on those who are accountable, as contrasted with those who have ignorantly sinned. (See Mosiah 3:11.) Happily, all who have been knowledgeable and who have engaged in open rebellion can repent.

The only exception to the repentance process King Benjamin made was for little children:

“I say unto you, that there are not any among you, except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; and also have been taught concerning the records which contain the prophecies which have been spoken by the holy prophets, even down to the time our father, Lehi, left Jerusalem.” (Mosiah 2:34.)

“Little children … are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” (Mosiah 3:16.)

“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.” (Mosiah 3:21.)

This same distinction appears elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, drawing a clear distinction between children who are not accountable and mature disciples.

The Book of Mormon’s inveighing so powerfully against infant baptism stems from disputations about that doctrine in the final hours of the Nephite world. By the time of Mormon’s significant scolding concerning that doctrine (Moro. 8), infant baptism had contemporaneously become official in the late Roman Empire. Doubtless some of what was preserved in the Book of Mormon was thus anticipatory of the need to correct this errancy and to understand the truly marvelous atonement of Jesus Christ, as Benjamin years before had so clearly proclaimed it.

The act of becoming a man or woman of Christ is an act of will and sustained desire. Hence, it could not be expected of little children, though childlike teachability is essential.

Upon hearing King Benjamin’s words (see Mosiah 3), which up to this point were apparently given to Benjamin by the Lord through an angel (Mosiah 3:23; Mosiah 4:1), the multitude began to exercise faith in a Savior who was yet to come, as compared with mortals today, who exercise faith in a Savior who has come. The listening and responsive multitude actually received, because of their faith, a remission of their sins. (See Mosiah 4:3.) They believed, had joy, received a remission of their sins, obtained thereby a peace of conscience, and had strong faith. The response to this remarkable sermon was thus most extraordinary.

Next, King Benjamin instinctively instructed those who had thus felt and known the “goodness of God” and who had been awakened to their sense of comparative “nothingness.” (See Mosiah 4:5–30.) Their feelings were apparently not unlike those Moses experienced when he realized that man, compared with God, was “nothing,” which thing he “never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10.)

King Benjamin extolled, again and again, the goodness of God, his matchless power, his wisdom, and his long-suffering. These citings are all the more directional and significant, precisely because we are to strive to become like God and his Son—attribute by attribute—in our discipleship. Once more, the specific, cardinal virtues of the disciple are held before our gaze by Benjamin.

Mosiah 4:9 is a splendid sermonette within the longer sermon:

“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4:9.)

What a powerful invitational statement! It is a testimony as to the reality of the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient God, whom man can trust but not match in intellect or causality. Isaiah would have been proud of Benjamin’s declaration, for Isaiah similarly stated: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa. 55:9.) Benjamin’s entreaty was given by a king whose very life underwrote the eloquent sermon by the eloquence of his personal example.

King Benjamin reminded the audience that since they had come to have a knowledge of God and of his goodness, and since they had tasted of his love, all this must lead to praying daily, to being steadfast in the faith, to rejoicing always, to being filled always with the love of God, and to retaining a remission of their sins. (See Mosiah 4:11–12.) Having experienced a blessed remission once, having “felt to sing the song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:26), one could scarcely go through life happy unless that remission was, in fact, retained.

So Benjamin—in words which focus on the first and second great commandments—hopes that his followers will grow in the knowledge of the glory of God and will grow in the knowledge that God is just and true.

Again, the specific praise of God for his divine attributes is significant, coming from King Benjamin, because his praise is also a prescription about the attributes which the followers themselves must develop. (See Mosiah 4:12.) Christianity is thus so much more than a phase-one experience, however special such an initiating experience can be.

The manner in which the complete Christian will live is then set forth earnestly by King Benjamin. (See Mosiah 4:13–16.) The complete Christian will have no mind to injure, will live peaceably, will render to others justly, and will care for his or her children, also teaching them to love and to serve one another and to succor the needy. Such a Christian will not turn beggars away, because, as Benjamin declared earlier, we are all beggars, totally dependent upon God for all that we have.

King Benjamin holds up as a paradigm the generosity of God, which, in turn, should lead us to be generous to others. (See Mosiah 4:21.)

A practical man, Benjamin also observed that some are too poor to give, but he affirms that they would if they could. (See Mosiah 4:24.) Good intentions weigh in, as well as good actions. The king even linked our retention of the remission of sins to our subsequent efforts to aid the needy, both spiritually and temporally. (See Mosiah 4:26.)

Finally, as a leader-servant, “full of years” and rich in experience, wise Benjamin urged the people to pace themselves in the arduous journey of discipleship. Things should be done in “wisdom and order,” as well as with diligence:

“And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” (Mosiah 4:27.)

This is not unlike the counsel given by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith in our time: “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end.” (D&C 10:4.)

This anxious leader, a warrior-king-prophet, giving his last great speech to his people, urged them in conclusion to watch themselves, their thoughts, their deeds, their words, and to keep the commandments, being faithful to the end. (Mosiah 4:30.) The life of discipleship requires continuous watchfulness in all dimensions of life.

In Mosiah 5, after the record of the sermon has ended, these words show how concerned this communicator-king was to know whether or not he had been effective as a teacher:

“And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.” (Mosiah 5:1.)

Benjamin was not an “I told you so” leader. He was genuinely concerned with whether or not his words had been received and applied. He also recognized the role of the family in teaching and implementing the commitments of discipleship. (See Mosiah 2:5–6; Mosiah 6:3.) He apparently did as the Savior did when He taught intensively and then directed His hearers to go and discuss with their families that which had been taught. (See 3 Ne. 17:3.)

Finally, Benjamin concluded that those who are ready should take upon themselves the name of Christ, covenanting to be obedient to the end of their lives. (See Mosiah 5:8.)

Those estranged from Christ will not know the Master whom they have not served; Jesus will have been “far from the thoughts and intents of [their] heart.” (See Mosiah 5:13.)

From a prophet-king who knew the Savior and who was blessed with much revelation from Him came the desire that His followers be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works” so that by Christ, the Lord God, they could “be brought to heaven.” (Mosiah 5:15.)

Benjamin probably knew his reassuring and steadying words would be preserved for faithful disciples in the last days, living in a world in which “all things shall be in commotion” (D&C 45:26; D&C 88:91) and yet standing fast in holy places (D&C 45:32).

Without question, King Benjamin’s sermon is one of the most remarkable in all of holy writ. No wonder Mormon was impressed to include this sermon among the precious records he preserved in his inspired abridgment.

Nor is it surprising that Mormon would, in addition to being impressed with the words of King Benjamin, be impressed with the quality of the man himself:

“For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—

“Wherefore, with the help of [the holy prophets who were among his people], king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.” (W of M 1:17–18.)

Unafraid of death, Benjamin even anticipated joining the “choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.” (Mosiah 2:28.) As noted by Benjamin, many of the things spoken in the sermon were “made known unto [him] by an angel from God” who stood before King Benjamin, bringing “glad tidings of great joy” (Mosiah 3:2–3), since the forthcoming of the Messiah was “not far distant,” the time when “the Lord Omnipotent … shall come down from heaven among the children of men” (Mosiah 3:5).

King Benjamin declared what “was made known … by an angel from God” regarding the infinite sacrifice and suffering of the Savior in behalf of all mankind. (Mosiah 3:2.) Christ, he said, would suffer “more than man can suffer … ; for behold, blood cometh from every pore. … For behold, … his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam.” (Mosiah 3:7, 11.)

Benjamin’s testimony stands as an everlasting witness that Christ’s blood is efficacious for the salvation of mankind. That testimony also is a rebuttal to the ancient and modern heresy that Christ’s atoning blood is insufficient to save mankind.

Thus, Benjamin spoke only “the words which the Lord God [had] commanded” him. (Mosiah 3:23.)

As a result, Benjamin’s words stood “as a bright testimony” for his immediate audience (Mosiah 3:24), as they stand for all of us, too. We and those yet to come are a part of the ever-enlarging audience to whom that special sermon was given. May we be touched by it spiritually, as those who first heard it were!

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson

[illustration] King Benjamin’s Address to the Nephites, by Gary Kapp