Mosiah Chapter 3
Mosiah 3 The Natural Man
Mosiah 3:8 (see also Alma 7:10) Specific prophecy of Jesus Christ and Mary: And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
Mosiah 3:17 There is no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ .
Mosiah 3:19 For the natural man is an enemy to God.
1 And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come.
2 And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me.
verse 2 "an angel" Angels may be commissioned by God to show to men the mysteries of God and to assist prophets in teaching their people. We do not know the identity of this messenger, but keep in mind that at the time of King Benjamin, no one had as yet been resurrected. This angel might have been a translated being. A man like Enoch, for example, might qualify for such an assignment. For a more complete discussion of angels, see the commentary for Alma 29:1.
3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
verse 3 The "glad tidings of great joy" are announced in verses 5 through 11.
4 For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
verse 4 Here we gain insight into how a prophet receives revelation. This verse also contains the two keys for any individual's receiving a testimony of Christ and his gospel. What are those keys? They are righteous living and prayerful seeking.
5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
verse 5 It is interesting to note that the term "Lord Omnipotent" or "Lord God Omnipotent" is used in very few places in our scripture. Aside from being used in Mosiah chapters 3 and 5 (Mosiah 3:5; Mosiah 3:17; Mosiah 3:18 21; 5:2, 15), it is used in only one other place in all four of the standard works, in Revelation 19:6. This term is likely used here to emphasize the contrast between the Lord's complete power and his children's inability to save themselves.
"who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity" The Savior has always existed. We all share this characteristic with the Savior (D&C 93:29). Our intelligence-the essence of our individual being-like his, was neither created nor can it be destroyed. If this phrase is intended to refer to his reign, then it is hyperbolic, since his dominant role in our round of creation did have a finite beginning.
"the Lord shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay" For a discussion of the concept of the condescension of God, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 11:16.
He shall dwell in a mortal body made up of materials from this mortal world ("clay").
6 And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.
7 And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people.
verse 7 "he shall suffer . . . even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death" It is clear that the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual suffering that Christ endured in Gethsemane and on the cross were of a greater magnitude than any mortal man is able to endure without fainting or succumbing. Elder James E. Talmage wrote: "He struggled and groaned under a burden such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible. It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing. No other man, however great his powers of physical or mental endurance, could have suffered so; for his human organism would have succumbed, and syncope would have produced unconsciousness and welcome oblivion" (Jesus the Christ, 613).
What of the enigmatic phrase "except it be unto death"? What does this phrase imply? Apparently it means that no other mortal would have been able to suffer the qualitative and quantitative pain the Savior suffered and remain alive.
We are taught that no man is capable of suffering himself without help to the point of being saved in a kingdom of glory. The unrepentant sinner in spirit prison will begin to suffer for his own sins: "But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit-and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink" (D&C 19:17-18). But then-if the sinner confesses Christ and covenants to obey him-he will be spared the additional suffering by virtue of the Savior's atoning suffering and death. While in a qualitative sense the sinner's suffering resembles the suffering of the Savior, the suffering of no man will measure up to the quantitative magnitude of the Savior's agony.
A poignant point to ponder: This verse proves that Jesus knew in explicit detail the fate that awaited him on the earth even before he came. Since the angel was able to prophesy the details of Jesus's mortal experiences, then certainly Jehovah himself knew all of those details. In the pre-existence he thus accepted the assignment to come to earth, not blindly, but with full knowledge of all he would suffer.
It must also be noted that not all of the mortal suffering the Savior would endure occurred in Gethsemane or on the cross. During his life and ministry he also suffered many of the pains of mortality (see John 4:6 and its commentary).
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
verse 8 It is fascinating to contemplate the process by which we have received the words contained in the Book of Mormon's verses. See The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon in volume 2, Appendix A of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine. In this particular verse, Joseph Smith, as he translated, was given words that may not have been completely appropriate in the days of the Book of Mormon people. Some have been critical of the Book of Mormon because it contains, for example, words of Greek origin such as "Christ" and "Mary." The Greek language, so far as we know, was unknown to the Book of Mormon people. As Joseph Smith translated, it was necessary that he perceive the meanings of text he was given. The words in this verse are rich in meaning. Jesus, which would be Joshua in Hebrew, means "Jehovah saves." Christ is a title of Greek origin meaning "anointed one." Mary is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam and means "exalted of the Lord" or, alternatively, "bitter tears."
"the Father of heaven and earth" Jesus Christ is identified as the Father or Creator of both heaven and earth. The term "heaven" has a few different meanings in the Book of Mormon. (1) The abode of Deity, where God the Father and his angels dwell. (2) The expanse or firmament containing the sun, moon, and stars. This definition pertains in this particular verse. (3) The eternal residence of the righteous where they may dwell forever with God the Father and God the Son. (4) The Lord's (the Son's) heavenly kingdom-the "kingdom of heaven."
9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.
verse 9 "he cometh unto his own" He will be born into the house of Israel, the chosen lineage.
"that salvation might come" Again, as has been mentioned previously, the word salvation, when used in the Book of Mormon, is usually synonymous with exaltation. Here, however, salvation may refer to any degree of salvation-to any degree of glory.
"they shall consider him a man" They will refuse to recognize that he is divine-the literal Son of God.
10 And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.
verse 10 The apostle Paul wrote, "He rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:4). Just where is this prophecy referred to by Paul? Where did he read this prophecy in the Old Testament? It is not found in the Old Testament! We have learned previously that this prophecy was commonly known among the Nephite people and that it likely originated with the prophet Zenos (1 Nephi 19:10; 2 Nephi 25:13). Undoubtedly Paul's scriptures, the Old Testament before plain and precious truths were removed by that great and abominable entity, contained the specific prophecy of Christ's resurrection written by more than one prophet.
"that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men" Through the process of the atonement, Christ became the perfect judge capable of meting out "righteous judgment" upon the children of men. For a further discussion of the concept of "righteous judgment" see "Just What Did Happen in Gethsemane and at Calvary?" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 19, The Essence of the Lord's Atonement.
11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
verse 11 "who have ignorantly sinned" The modern mind might tend to interpret sin as the conscious violation of a commandment of God. Hence, some might say that a person cannot ignorantly sin. To the ancient Hebrew mind, however, sinning in ignorance was a definite category of sin (see Numbers 15:22-29). Unintentional sin was of much greater concern to ancient people than it is to us today. It is likely that we worry very little about such sins, since we know they will be dealt with lightly until the individual is informed of the pertinent commandment (see John W. Welch, FARMS Update in Insights [April 1996], 2).
This verse refers to a specific group of people-those "who have ignorantly sinned." What of these? Do they enjoy a favored status? Are they, at death, automatically ushered into paradise because of their ignorance of the law? Let us review the basics: Adam's transgression brought upon mankind mortality and separation from God. This means that all men will eventually suffer a physical death and also will live out their mortal sojourn on this telestial earth outside of God's presence. Also because each individual commits sins on his own, he or she will be excluded from God's presence until the effect of those sins is overcome. If there had been no atonement made, then at death all men would live eternally with a spirit body with Satan in outer darkness (2 Nephi 9:8-9). Christ's atonement automatically eliminates the consequences of Adam's transgression. Thus, all mankind will be resurrected, and none will be kept out of God's presence because of anything Adam did. But what of our own sins? We are each responsible for these. We must strive to repent and improve our performance relative to the law as we understand it. All will be judged according to the light and knowledge available to them. Eventually all will have their sins remitted and be exalted in the celestial kingdom or saved in a lesser degree of glory. Some few who remain unrepentant will be banished to outer darkness forever.
And what of those who lived on the earth without an opportunity to hear the gospel and thus those who "ignorantly sinned"? Do they escape the necessity of having to live the gospel law? No indeed. These will be judged by an all-knowing Savior (D&C 137:5-9). Those who would have embraced the gospel and endured in its principles had they the opportunity to hear it will be directed, at death, to paradise and later to the celestial kingdom. Those who would not have accepted the gospel will receive an appropriate lesser reward (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:25-26).
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
13 And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them.
verse 13 "to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue" All of mankind is in a fallen state, and therefore all need to hear the message that would redeem them from the fall.
Was the future mortal advent of Jesus Christ really preached widely and specifically to the ancient world by prophets? Was therefore a knowledge of Christ more widely had by the ancient world than is commonly thought? This verse declares it (see Jacob 4:4; Luke 24:25-27).
"the same might receive remission of their sins . . . even as though he had already come among them" Here is a fascinating truth! The blessings of Christ's atonement are extended to the people of Benjamin's day, indeed all the way back to the days of Adam, even though the Savior will not actually experience his atoning sacrifice for another hundred and fifty or so years!
14 Yet the Lord God saw that his people were a stiffnecked people, and he appointed unto them a law, even the law of Moses.
verse 14 Since the people were unwilling to accept the full message of the prophets, they were given the lesser law.
15 And many signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows showed he unto them, concerning his coming; and also holy prophets spake unto them concerning his coming; and yet they hardened their hearts, and understood not that the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood.
verse 15 Here is one of the great religious ironies of all time. The early Israelites misinterpreted the Lord's giving them the law of Moses. They had to be given the law of carnal commandments because of their spiritual immaturity. It was a temporary means to help them with their spiritual growth. Yet, they believed that the law was a permanent end-that it proved them superior to all the rest of God's children. They believed they only needed to adhere rigorously to the law. They saw no need for Christ and his atonement. They sought to become "justified" by the law itself. They failed to understand the vital fact that "the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood" (see also Mosiah 13:28-32). For a summary of the ways in which the law of Moses was the typifying of Jesus Christ, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 11:4.
16 And even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.
verse 16 This verse begins with two assumed hypotheses. First it assumes that no atonement will ever be made for mankind. It also assumes that in the absence of an atonement, even little children could not be saved in a kingdom of glory. Benjamin then goes on to teach that because of the atonement, all children will be saved.
Benjamin's conclusions seem clear enough, but we might benefit from a bit of discussion of his assumptions and his teachings.
Why precisely is it that little children who have not yet reached the age of accountability could not be saved in God's heavenly kingdom had there been no atonement made? One may reason, "Wouldn't little children, who are not accountable, be totally innocent of any sin and therefore 'justified by the law'? Thus they would not need an atonement?" We have been taught that, in the absence of an atonement, all mankind would be lost to outer darkness (2 Nephi 9:8-9). It has been suggested that declaring an infant or young child innocent and free of sin until the age of eight years may be more than simply an arbitrary designation by the Lord. It is not that they are good by nature. Certainly there was an opportunity to sin in the premortal world, and doubtless many individuals left that realm guilty of sin. They are innocent because the Lord has decreed them so. The actual mechanism whereby they are made innocent is that at the time of their mortal birth into mortality they are cleansed by the blood of Christ's atonement. Without the atonement, they would not be innocent and free of sin during those early childhood years up until age eight. This has been so since the time of Adam.
But how could infant children at the time of Adam benefit by the blessings of the atonement, since Christ's atoning blood would not be shed for thousands of years? In the scriptures, it is clear that the blessings of the atonement have been extended to all mankind since the days of Adam. The blessings of his atoning blood have always been available to all men. The scriptures refer to this phenomenon by saying that Christ is the Lamb "slain from the foundations of the world" (Revelation 13:8; Moses 7:47).
Benjamin then goes on to say that an atonement will indeed be made, and because of that atonement, the little children "are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins." Because of the atonement, no one will suffer for the transgression of Adam. All will be resurrected and no one will remain outside the presence of God because of Adam. But still, every man, child or adult, is still responsible for his own "nature" and inclinations.
Some Christian religions have taught the doctrine that children are born into this world with the "original sin" of Adam weighing upon them, and unless they are baptized in the name of Christ to remove that sin, they are consigned to eternal misery and damnation. For a discussion of this phenomenon, see the introductory commentary for Moroni chapter 8. Are children "guilty" because of Adam's transgression? Certainly not. The law of justice would not allow a guiltless person to be kept out of God's heavenly kingdom because of the sins of another person.
"as in Adam, or by nature, they fall" The parenthetical expression "or by nature" within this phrase has added significantly to our understanding of the expression "as in Adam." Here Benjamin teaches us that the expression "as in Adam" actually means "or by nature"-because of the nature of man, because of the natural self or "natural man" within us. The Hebrew common noun adam occurs over five hundred times in the Old Testament with the generic meaning "man" or "mortal man" or "natural man." Thus the expression "as in Adam" simply means because of the "natural man" within us, and perhaps the proper noun Adam here should have been rendered as the common noun adam in this verse.
It seems true that most apostate doctrines have at their roots true doctrines that have been adulterated. Perhaps the doctrine of "original sin" actually is simply an altered or adulterated version of the doctrine or concept of the "natural man."
"but I say unto you they are blessed" If there had been no atonement, even innocent little children would be lost. But of course they are not lost. Christ did atone, and his atonement applies to them as well as to all mankind.
Some special groups of people here on earth are not considered fully responsible for their sins. These include the mentally handicapped, little children who have not reached the age of accountability, and even those who have not received the gospel (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:25-26). This is not to say that each of these hasn't sinned. The apostle Paul taught that "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, emphasis added). But the sins of these special groups are committed in ignorance. Even so, they cannot be saved in a kingdom of glory without the atonement of Christ. Because of the atonement, Jesus is empowered to judge each of the members of these special groups as if they had received the gospel in a non-ignorant condition (again, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:25-26).
17 And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
verse 17 It is apparently this very passage written by King Benjamin that Helaman will refer to when he says to his sons Lehi and Nephi, "Remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people" (Helaman 5:9).
This verse forms the very essence of Benjamin's sermon. It is an absolute verity and is true regardless of how any man may regard the Savior. All other "gods" of this world will eventually pass from importance. "Princes come, princes go. An hour of pomp, [an hour of] show" (Kismet: A Musical Arabian Knight, Boston: Frank, 1955).
"salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ" Everything redemptive is accomplished in the name of Christ, who mediates all transactions between God and man. In an important conference address in April of 1985, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave important insight into the phrase "the name of Jesus Christ." He said: "Scriptural references to the name of Jesus Christ often refer to the authority of Jesus Christ (italics added)." Elder Oaks taught that salvation, or in this case exaltation, can only come to the children of men through this authority particularly when it is employed in the temple to administer sacred covenants. Thus, no man can be exalted in the celestial kingdom without entering into those most sacred covenants available to us in the temple.
verses 18-19 These verses contain a compelling example of chiasmus which is a pattern of writing found in Hebrew writings. See the supplemental article, The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon. If the reader has an interest, the following chiastic diagram is included:
atoning blood of Christ
atonement of Christ
The mention of chiasmus brings to mind an insightful statement by Dr. John W. Welch, the discoverer of chiasmus. As he was discussing the role of evidence in strengthening our faith in the Book of Mormon, he wrote, "Marshaling evidence builds respect for the truth. I have been amazed and pleased to watch the Book of Mormon win respect for itself and for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had long appreciated and valued the Book of Mormon, but it was not until I began to see it speaking for itself before sophisticated audiences, especially in connection with such things as chiasmus and law in the Book of Mormon, that I began to sense the high level of respect that the book really can command. On many grounds, the Book of Mormon is intellectually respectable. The more I learn about the Book of Mormon, the more amazed I become at its precision, consistency, validity, vitality, insightfulness, and purposefulness. I believe that the flow of additional evidence nourishes and enlarges faith" ("A Book You Can Respect," Ensign, September 1977, 45-48).
18 For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.
verse 18 "men drink damnation to their own souls" For a brief discussion of what it means to be damned, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:24.
19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
verse 19 "the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam" Who is this "natural man" who is an enemy to God? There has been some difference of opinion on this matter. Some of the brethren, including even Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, have taken issue with the idea that man naturally is an enemy to God. Rather, they have taught man is naturally good-it is the nature of man to be good. It is natural to be happy and at peace with God, and it is unnatural to be wicked and an enemy to God. Further they have taught that King Benjamin here must be interpreted in context: He is talking here about the incorrigible sinner, the carnal man who won't repent.
There is an alternate interpretation: The term "natural man" describes a trait common to all men and women born into this world. This label does not refer to any particular individual's moral character but rather to a universal characteristic of all mankind. A "natural man" or "natural" characteristics of men are those which have not been touched or refined by the influence of the Holy Ghost. Every man or woman has tendencies of the natural man that are not alterable except through the influence of the Holy Ghost. The natural man is an "enemy to God" because his nature is alien to things of a spiritual or eternal nature. His perspective is limited to the carnal and worldly, and he is completely incapable of understanding spiritual things. "[Spiritual truths] are foolishness unto him" (1 Corinthians 2:14). He is blind and deaf to matters of the Spirit. He is independent rather than submissive and humble, though, ironically, he usually ends up conforming to the worldly trends of the day. He is proud, overly-competitive, and driven by rewards of the world. His behavior is likely to be influenced by his animal passions.
Every man is a natural man and in bondage to the flesh until he "yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord." Once sanctified by the Holy Spirit, man is fundamentally and profoundly changed. He is "born again." He is a "new creature." He transforms from a state of carnality to being "as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him." He cannot look upon sin "save it be with abhorrence." He receives Christ's "image" in his "countenance." He experiences a "mighty change" of heart. He enjoys the "fruits of the Spirit" which, according to the Apostle Paul, are "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance" (Galatians 5:22-23). He is then said to possess the "divine nature" rather than a "natural" nature. His perspective is not confined to this earthly sojourn but is rather an eternal one. He knows that this earth life is not the "real life."
It is essential to become a "new creature" of the Holy Ghost because the natural man is unable to withstand the light and glory of God. Elder Bruce Hafen has written:
The purpose of our existence here is to have an opportunity to develop the skills, the capacities, that are necessary for us to live in the celestial kingdom. When my nine-year-old boy says he wants to drive the car, I must explain to him that if he goes out onto the freeway, he is going to be dangerous-he might kill himself and a lot of other people as well. He does not yet have the capacity to use the freedom offered by a freeway. Until I can help him develop that capacity-the skill, the judgment, the maturity-going out there freely will kill him. The same would be true of our premature introduction to the freedom-and the responsibility-of living in a kingdom governed by celestial laws. The assumption of responsibility can be liberating or crushing, depending upon one's preparation to receive it ("The Value of the Veil," Ensign [June 1977] 7:10-13).The purpose of our existence here is to have an opportunity to develop the skills, the capacities, that are necessary for us to live in the celestial kingdom. When my nine-year-old boy says he wants to drive the car, I must explain to him that if he goes out onto the freeway, he is going to be dangerous-he might kill himself and a lot of other people as well. He does not yet have the capacity to use the freedom offered by a freeway. Until I can help him develop that capacity-the skill, the judgment, the maturity-going out there freely will kill him. The same would be true of our premature introduction to the freedom-and the responsibility-of living in a kingdom governed by celestial laws. The assumption of responsibility can be liberating or crushing, depending upon one's preparation to receive it ("The Value of the Veil," Ensign [June 1977] 7:10-13).
Only when man is transformed by the Spirit does he come to realize how totally dependent is humanity upon the Lord. This true humility comes only with revealed divine knowledge to the sanctified individual. The proud (worldly), on the other hand, are never humble. They are ignorant of man's dependence upon the Lord, and they are unaware of their own ignorance. For supplemental reading on this important subject, see the following chapters in volume 1 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine: chapter 5, The "Natural Self" and "Spiritual Self" (especially the subheading "Pride" in that chapter). See also chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification.
20 And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
verse 20 This prophecy was likely intended to have its fulfillment in these latter days and in the Millennium, and the Book of Mormon will be the very means by which it will be fulfilled.
21 And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.
verse 21 Once an individual has a knowledge of the Savior, his gospel, and the significance of his atonement, an obligation or responsibility is placed upon him. He may only then become "blameless" or free of sin through the process of obedience and repentance.
22 And even at this time, when thou shalt have taught thy people the things which the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, even then are they found no more blameless in the sight of God, only according to the words which I have spoken unto thee.
verses 21-22 In the future, when the gospel message is promulgated widely, no one other than children will be able to plead ignorance. Even "at this time"-at the time of King Benjamin-Benjamin tells his people, when you hear the gospel and teach it to your families and friends ("thy people"), then you and they have an obligation to repent and obey.
"only according to the words which I have spoken unto thee" This phrase seems to say that only through the blessings of the atonement can we become blameless in the sight of God.
23 And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.
verses 24-27 Again, these verses illustrate the fact that the Book of Mormon makes no allowance for post-mortal repentance and lesser degrees of glory. Men are categorized as simply "good" or "evil." In verses 25 through 27, those who are evil apparently inherit what sounds much like outer darkness (see the commentary for Mosiah 2:33).
24 And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.
verse 24 The first "they" refers to the words which Benjamin has just spoken. The second refers to "this people," the third and forth to "the works of every man."
What constitutes a man's "works"? Plausibly his "works" consist of his behaviors (the things he says and does), the real intentions and feelings of his heart, and his obedience to the commandments.
25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
verse 25 This verse has been an object of ridicule. Some anti-Mormon critics have suggested that Joseph Smith borrowed from William Shakespeare when he wrote it. For a possible explanation of why the wording in this verse resembles Shakespeare's phraseology, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 22:15.
"therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls" For a brief discussion of what it means to be damned see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:24.
26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen.
verse 27 "lake of fire and brimstone" This expression, of course, does not describe the literal fate of anyone. Rather, it is a figurative or symbolic expression that is discussed more fully in the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:19.