King Benjamin does not concern himself with all the ways it is possible to get it wrong. (Mosiah 4: 29.) Mankind gets it wrong all the time. The great challenge is to finally get it right. His sermon is an attempt to lay out how a society may finally overcome the failures and draw close to God. Individual righteousness is a rare thing in this world, but it happens more frequently than societal righteousness. King Benjamin’s talk is about societal success, or social righteousness.
Once converted, the work begins. The work, as we have seen, involves eradicating poverty by helping the needy. We are forbidden from turning away the beggar. We are forbidden from judging them. We have but one duty toward them; that is to help them.
His sermon continues: “And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.” (Mosiah 4: 24.) Even the poor are required to have a charitable heart. They may lack the means, but they cannot lack the heart. All society must have a disposition to help one another.
Unless we are willing to render aid to one another, we cannot possibly become one. Until we view the circumstances of the least member of the community from their vantage point, we cannot become one. It isn’t possible to bear one another’s burdens when we are oblivious to the burdens they bear. Alma would preach this as a requirement to be baptized. (See Mosiah 18: 8-10.) Until we are like-minded we don’t even qualify for the ordinance offered by Alma.
The Book of Mormon speaks of the ideals that condemn us because we do not even recognize them. Even if we pretend to share the religion of those of the Book of Mormon, our social order is far from what the book preaches.
King Benjamin continues: “And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.” (Mosiah 4: 25.) Here is a failure so significant it absolutely prevents Zion. Coveting is a vile personal failure, and so foreign to becoming “one” as a people, that it is condemned in the Ten Commandments. (See Ex. 20: 17.) It prevents us from being equal. Equality is required for Zion.
When the Restoration was led by Joseph Smith, the Lord cautioned the early believers that they were required to be equal in temporal things. Because they refused to do so, they forfeited the Spiritual manifestations which necessarily accompany Zion. “Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.” (D&C 70: 14.) They failed. We do not even attempt it. We probably shouldn’t attempt it until we first repent and receive the faith the Lord once attempted to restore through Joseph Smith.
When Joseph was still ministering, the Lord foretold of a great work to be done. This work was the Lord’s to do, but even the mention of it inspired eagerness by the early converts. When hints of Zion emerged in Joseph’s prophecies, the Saints thought it was their right to have it immediately, and without the necessary patience and diligence that must precede it. They hastened to the center spot, where, as a result of the Indian Relocation Act enforced by Andrew Jackson, all Native Americans had been relocated. The line between the Indians and whites was drawn on the western border of Missouri. All eastern Indians, from Maine to Florida, had been resettled in the Indian Territory. The center of their population was, at that moment, Independence, Missouri. If the Indians were going to be taught, there was one center spot available for access by white missionaries. It was in Independence, Missouri. When Mormons attempted to cross the line and preach inside the Indian Territory, they were threatened with arrest and transport to Fort Levenworth, Kansas. At that brief moment in time, the closest they could locate to the target audience was Independence, Missouri.
By June 1844, when Joseph Smith was leaving to seek out the Remnant, the Indians had long since left the former relocation area. They were then scattered westward. Hence Joseph’s plan to go to the Rocky Mountains to find the Remnant and build the New Jerusalem.
When the Mormon missionaries located the then-closest, center spot the eager Saints filed into the area. Even if they had the right location at that moment, they were unqualified to be there. Had they followed King Benjamin’s sermon, they would have had a better chance. Instead they were anything but converted in their hearts to the kind of principles which would allow people to live in harmony with one another.
Here is how the Lord characterized the 1830’s ruinous attempt to steal Zion: “Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.” (D&C 101: 6.) Once again, covetousness in the heart is prohibited in Zion. Though the Lord may have given them a potential inheritance, they squandered it.
King Benjamin’s sermon is about the ideal. It is what the heart should have within it for the man or woman to be able to live with others equally. We will fail, like all others have failed, if we are unable to first remove the impediments within our hearts. What good would be accomplished in any age to gather together people who are unwilling to be one, unable to live in harmony with one another. We have that society already. The mantra we recite to overcome the vast inequalities and dissimilarities among us in our fractured society is “tolerance” and “non-judgment.” These are as likely to invite evil as good.
Cease to be covetous and lustful. Have a disposition to no longer do evil, but to do good. Give to those in need and succor those who you are able to succor. Then you have some chance to avoid jarring one another, contending and envying one another. There is no reason for the Lord to gather anyone until everyone He would gather has the attributes taught by King Benjamin in their hearts. Once that is done, there will be time enough to gather. But if you gather together and there is but one among you with a covetous, lustful and envious heart, there can be no Zion.