King Benjamin’s discourse continues in this lesson. After declaring to the people that all of them are fallen and not worthy of anything, and then explaining the atonement of Christ, we find that the people are converted.
“...behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: 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.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them” (Mosiah 3:1-3).
Here we see the pattern to change and the conversion to a spiritual life. First, we must humble ourselves, seeing ourselves as “less than the dust of the earth.” Without such an attitude, our pride will always prevent us from having a full spiritual experience. We cannot fully repent, as long as we hold onto any sin or belief that binds us to the material world and the natural man. Instead, we must see ourselves as unworthy of anything we have received. We cannot think that the world or anyone owes us a living, because the Lord has already given us life and agency. For forgiveness, mercy and at-one-ment to occur, we must surrender our hearts to God. Anything less will not give us the entire blessing.
And what is that blessing? As Benjamin’s people repented, they were filled with the Holy Spirit, which testified to them that their sins were forgiven, filling them with exquisite peace and joy. This was a free gift to those who fully accept the gift and do not resist receiving it through a lack of faith. As with them, it required “exceeding faith” to obtain a clear conscience and to be redeemed from the Fall.
“For behold, if the knowledge of the goodness of God at this time has awakened you to a sense of your nothingness, and your worthless and fallen state—
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body—
I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world.
And this is the means whereby salvation cometh” (Mosiah 4:5-8).
Here are the steps to salvation: 1. recognize we are nothing and are fallen from the grace and presence of God, 2. recognize that God is good and wishes to save us if we believe and trust in Him, keeping his commandments until the end - not as a way to earn salvation, but as our way of showing faith and repentance enough to receive his grace and not defy it. In verses 9-10, Benjamin reiterates his stance. We must believe in God and that he is all powerful. Then we must repent, and repentance means leaving sin behind and following Christ demonstrated by keeping the commandments.
In following this course, Benjamin notes,
“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true” (Mosiah 4:12).
As such, the Nephites did not receive a remission of sins because they were already keeping the commandments nor trying to earn heaven, but because they truly believed and repented. Then, as the Holy Spirit fell upon them, we find it changed them forever.
“And they all cried with one voice, saying: 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).
The mighty change of heart they experienced caused them to want to do good. Not because the Mosaic Law demanded they follow a checklist of rules, but because the Spirit had filled them. Pharisees tried keeping every rule in the Mosaic law, and then some. They were excellent at minutiae. Where they failed was they did not have the right faith nor humility to repent. Some modern Christians (including some Mormons) mistake keeping a checklist of rules with having been changed through the atonement of Christ and to now desire to obey for they no longer desire evil.
While we are saved only in faith and repentance, our works are still very important. Our future works determine if we are continuing in the grace of Christ, or are drifting back toward the "natural man, which is an enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:19). Only in casting off the natural man, and then putting on the man of Christ, can we ever hope to obtain the presence of God.
Benjamin notes ways in which we should “desire to do good continually.” He lists the importance of teaching the gospel to our children, providing for the sick and needy, and doing good to all mankind. For those who deny helping out the beggar, thinking the person obviously deserves his poverty, the prophet-king proclaimed:
“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:18-19).
Could God not determine that we deserve the struggles we go through, and not provide, for the same reasons we judge those around us? The Ghost of Christmas Present mocked Ebenezer Scrooge, using his own words against him: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? “ Imagine if God were such a scrooge with his charity and grace! None of us would get out of this world alive.
“And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another” (Mosiah 4:20-21).
We would not give an addict more heroin. But if he were to ask for something that could actually help him, is it not our responsibility to do so? If we wish to be true Christians, then yes. And in doing so, the Lord will then shed upon us his grace, salvation and Spirit, filling us with exceeding joy and peace, even in such a troubled world as we live in.
Again, in Mosiah 5, we find that the people are completely changed. They no longer desire “to do evil, but to do good continually.” Their disposition was now towards following Christ. They were now ready to enter into a covenant with God.
“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 that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God” (Mosiah 5:5).
As with the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11), we follow a pattern: Faith in Christ, Repentance, Making a Covenant (often tied to an ordinance like baptism), and Receiving the Holy Ghost. In the modern LDS Sacrament/communion prayer, we covenant to “ take upon [us] the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given [us], that [we]may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Moroni 4:3). This, of course, is the eternal round or the cycle of progression.
When we develop faith in Christ, or even begin to desire to believe (Alma 32), we then determine we are unworthy and require rescue. That rescuing comes through repentance and making a covenant to live a Christ-like life for the remainder of our days. On making such a covenant, symbolized by ordinances like baptism, sacrament, ordination, endowment or sealing, we are filled with the Spirit of God, which imbues us with new spiritual life. We enter into the presence of the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost, and have begun our ascension into the presence of the Lord. As we exercise ever more faith, we desire more change, and so we repent of more weaknesses we recognize in ourselves, commit or renew a covenant, and are imbued with even more of the Holy Ghost. Eventually, we receive the great promise:
“...then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:45-46).
The Holy Ghost is our constant companion and we can stand with confidence in the presence of God.
Benjamin uses wordplay with his own name to strengthen the idea of this covenant. Ben = son/child, and Jamin=right hand, or Son of the Right Hand. He explains that all can become children of God, sitting on the right hand of God. This is a major part of the covenant with God: becoming one with God and joining the Heavenly Family.
With the covenant we make at baptism, we receive a new name, even as King Benjamin’s Nephites received:
“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
"And under this head ye are made , and there is other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
"And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.” (Mosiah 5:7-9).
Through Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, we become spiritually reborn as His children. We become “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).
Book of Mormon Central: Benjamin - Son of the Right Hand