King Benjamin’s teaching are astonishing to read. For him the critical question was his conscience: “I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God.” (Mosiah 2: 27.) This was important because he knew he needed to put the burden upon his people by warning them, otherwise he would be accountable for failing to warn them. His sermon was so that he “might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.” (Id.) He knew that warning the people in plain language would be the only way his conscience would be clear before God. Then his people could choose between heeding his teaching and thereby obeying God, or rejecting his message and being accountable.
King Benjamin also taught a lesson almost identical to what the risen Savior would later teach. Here is King Benjamin’s language:
Here are Christ’s words:
“And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11: 28-29.)
Neither King Benjamin nor Christ anticipated complete agreement among their followers. All of us understand things somewhat differently, and in some cases more completely as a subject begins to be studied. Even the same individual will understand things differently at different times. As you study in good faith and confidence before God you may believe in a proposition that you will change your understanding about later. That is inevitable when we are progressing.
Assuming we take seriously King Benjamin’s and Christ’s instruction to refrain from contending in anger with one another, how do we proceed as brothers and sisters in sorting out our unavoidable disagreements? The answer, of course, is provided in counsel from Joseph Smith found in scripture which clarifies how we overcome our disagreements:
-by gentleness and meekness
-by pure knowledge
(D&C 121: 41-42.)
The inappropriate disputations and contentions that were condemned by King Benjamin and Christ would likewise fit Joseph’s scriptural clarification. We are warned not to:
-cover our sins
-gratify our pride
-pursue our vain ambitions
-persecute the Lord’s saints
(D&C 121: 37-38.)
One of the strongest evidences Joseph Smith was in harmony with the Spirit of the Lord is shown in his words mirroring both King Benjamin’s and Christ’s. King Benjamin counseled his people after a lifetime of service and contemplation. Christ’s counsel was given following His resurrection in His appearance to a Nephite audience. In contrast, Joseph’s inspired words came while he was confined to Liberty Jail in Missouri. Gracious words from all three, but Joseph’s were composed in the worst of circumstances. This is one of the reasons I have such respect for Joseph.