Contrast the reaction of King Benjamin’s audience with modern expectations and sensibilities. We want to hear smooth things. We want our self-image enhanced. We want stories that tell us we are good people in a good place doing good things and getting better every day. We want to feel reassured. King Benjamin’s audience felt threatened, unnerved and dismayed. They were reduced to fearful trembling, instead of hurrahs for their greatness. A sermon like the one King Benjamin delivered would drive the audience out the doors today.
Keep that in mind as you read the reaction recorded in Mosiah, Chapter 4: “when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and 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.” (Mosiah 4: 1-2.)
Fear had come upon them! They viewed themselves in their carnal state! They thought themselves less than the dust of the earth! They cried out for mercy! Interesting indeed!
No hymns were sung thanking God for a prophet-king to guide them. No hymns proclaiming that all is well, all is well. No praise to the man who shook their hearts and minds with fear. Instead, it was contrition and prayer for Christ’s atoning blood to remove their sins and purify their hearts.
We read this stuff but don’t recognize any contrast between ourselves and these earlier “saved” people. We think we’re like them. But we are not. We’re nothing like them in our faith, in our practices, in our humility and in our understanding of God’s plan of salvation. We are filled with pride and foolishness, leading one another about from vanity to trifles, like drunkards who vomit upon one another and then view the results as proof of our inspiration. (Isa. 28: 1-3.) We get angry at the idea we need repentance because we are not yet saved. Our anger is proof we have fallen for Satan's lies. (2 Ne. 28: 20.)
Joseph Smith decried the Saints of his day (with a lamentation that has increased in relevance in our own) with these words: “How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations—too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God. None but fools will trifle with the souls of men.” (TPJS, p.137.) If sermons were trifling in his day in ours they are vaccuous. This thin gruel cannot sustain us. Oddly, we are supposed to be constantly reminded of the need for spiritual nourishment to sustain life. When you participate in religious conventions dominated by theatrics, mood lighting and musical manipulation it is a substitute for the Spirit, not the Spirit itself. Theatrics are never an adequate substitute for Gospel substance. Everything money can buy can make an impressive show, but in the end it is just another example of how you can buy anything in this world for money. Being heart-warmed is not the same thing as being brought to repentance.
You will lose your soul if you seek foolishness instead of truth. Like King Benjamin’s audience, you should be afraid. Your only hope is through Christ.
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