The people King Benjamin addressed were brought to repentance, but it is the record of their repentance that is so relevant to us today. Keep in mind that King Benjamin’s record was originally composed about a century and a quarter before Christ. At that time the Law of Moses was in effect. The version we have in the Book of Mormon was abridged by Mormon about four centuries after Christ. Therefore, we have a record which is both pre- and post- Christ. Mormon’s abridgment was intended, however, for a latter-day audience. He saw our day. Before finishing his father’s record, his son, Moroni, described us in detail and even foretold that those whose religion would be based on his record would not only pollute God’s holy church, but would use it as the means of “getting gain.” (Mormon 8: 33-38.) Mormon also knew his civilization was passing away as he made his abridgment. (Mormon 6: 1.) I conclude that the account of the repentance process was primarily intended as a message to the latter-day gentiles who would receive the record.
King Benjamin’s audience cried out in prayer this petition to God: “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.” (Mosiah 4: 2.) What strikes me about this prayer is that today we would identify this with the Evangelical/Born Again Christian approach to a religious experience. It is a confession of belief coupled with a request for forgiveness. Latter-day Saints belittle this approach. We claim that much more is needed, including certain authoritative rites and ordinances. Ultimately, that may be part of God’s plan, and certainly Christ’s own example informs us that baptism was required even of Him “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3: 13-15.) But the ordinances are signposts that provide an outward proof of inward change. Here, in the account of King Benjamin, we have the focus entirely upon the inward change. This is the “weighter” part of the process. Christ condemned those who observed the ordinances, but failed to exercise mercy and faith; the inward target of the outward observance. (See, e.g., Matt. 23: 23.) There is some considerable peril in being too proud of your ordinances. They have displaced the inward, weightier part of the Gospel in past dispensations, and certainly can do so again. Satan has no new tricks. The old ones seem to work so well, there is little reason to introduce some new road for apostasy. Pride in ordinances as the ticket for salvation works every time it is tried. It’s a little thing, but little things count when the measurement is taken against perfection.
The effect of this inward change of heart is also recorded in King Benjamin’s account. It is the universal evidence which comes from God to all those who find saving grace. “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 4: 3.) From this we learn:
-The Spirit of the Lord is the testifier and witness of salvation (witnessing to the saved)
-There is joy when you receive the Spirit
-Sins are remitted, because the Spirit cannot dwell in unclean vessels (the vessel is cleansed)
-Your conscience is clear because you no longer carry your sins
-All of this is the product of faith
-Faith comes as a consequence of being ministered to by one authorized by God, as was King Benjamin.
That last point was one which Joseph Smith also taught. Joseph said: “Whenever men can find out the will of God and find an administrator legally authorized from God, there is the kingdom of God, but where these are not, the kingdom of God is not. All the ordinances, systems, and administrations on the earth are of no use to the children of men, unless they are ordained and authorized of God; for nothing will save a man but a legal administrator; for none others will be acknowledged either by God or angels.” (TPJS, p. 274.) It is for this reason that King Benjamin and Mormon include the final ingredient in verse 3: “according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.” They heard the truth from one sent by God, had faith in Christ as a consequence of that, believed, asked and experienced the fruit of conversion. This is how Christ’s Gospel works. (Romans 10: 17.)
The Gospel, when it makes its brief appearances upon the earth, comes in the same way as we find recorded in this record of King Benjamin. Those who receive the message, believing it to be from God, having faith to ask God for their part in Christ’s atonement, can likewise receive their own inward confirmation; their own experience akin to that described in Mosiah 4: 3.
An unchanging God has an unchanging Gospel. Rather than taking pride in your ordinances, view yourself in your lost and fallen state. Start there, and rebuild your faith through repentance. Once you’ve cleansed the inward part, there will be time to worry about the outward later.