A Tale of Two Addresses (and Centuries)

Posted: February 14, 2021 in Book of Mormon, Fred Anson, Mormon Studies

An artist’s rendering of King Benjamin addressing the Nephite people from the Book of Mormon about 124 B.C.

Parallels between King Benjamin (The Book of Mormon)
and Bishop M’Kendree (19th Century Methodist Leader)

compiled by Fred W. Anson
The similarities between King Benjamin’s (circa 124 B.C.) address that’s recorded in Mosiah 2-5 of the Book of Mormon and Methodist Leader Bishop M’Kendree’s address in Palmyra, New York, on June 7, 1826, which is recorded in American historical archives are remarkable.

As the late Mormon Historian Grant Palmer explains:
“We have not taken Joseph Smith seriously enough when he stated that he had an “intimate acquaintance” with evangelical religion and that he was “somewhat partial” to the Methodists. Protestant concepts appear to abound in his discourses and experiences. For example, a Methodist camp meeting was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826— a pivotal time in Joseph Smith’s life. Preparations for a camp meeting included leasing and consecrating the ground. Thus the “ground within the circle of the tents is considered sacred to the worship of God, and is our chapel.” The Methodists referred to these “consecrated grounds” as their “house of God” or temple. The Palmyra camp meeting reportedly attracted over 10,000 people. Families came from all parts of the 100-mile conference district and pitched their tents facing the raised “stand” where the preachers were seated, including one named Benjamin G. Paddock (fig. 20). This large crowd heard the “valedictory” or farewell speech of their beloved “Bishop M’Kendree [who] made his appearance among us for the last time.” He was the Methodist leader who “had presided” over the area for many years. The people had such reverence for this “sainted” man “that all were melted, and … awed in his presence.” In his emaciated and “feeble” condition, he spoke of his love for the people and then delivered a powerful message that covered “the whole process of personal salvation.” Tremendous unity prevailed among the crowd, and “nearly every unconverted person on the ground” committed oneself to Christ. At the close of the meeting, the blessings and newly appointed “Stations of the Preachers” were made for the Ontario district.

This is reminiscent of King Benjamin’s speech to the Zarahemlans in the Book of Mormon, whose chronicler describes the setting:

‘The people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the [last] words which [their beloved] king Benjamin should speak unto them … [T] hey pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family … every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple … the multitude being so great that king Benjamin … caused a tower to be erected … [And he said from the platform,] I am about to go down to my grave … I can no longer be your teacher … For even at this time my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you’ (Mosiah 2: 1, 5-7, 28-30).

The venerated King Benjamin, like Bishop M’Kendree, expresses his love for his people and gives a powerful farewell discourse on personal salvation. The response and unity are such “that there was not one soul, except it were little children, but who had entered into the covenant and had taken upon them the name of Christ.” At meeting’s end, Mosiah, Benjamin’s son, “appointed priests to teach the people” (Mosiah 6: 2-3). In Alma 17: 18, Methodist phrasing is used: “Now Ammon being the chief among them, [blessed and appointed the sons of Mosiah] … to their several stations.” Alma 17-26 then gives a detailed recital of the sons’ preaching with the following summary: “And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him” (17: 4).

In evangelical meetings it was common for those who were moved by the preaching to break out in tears and fall to the ground. This was considered to be a state of “conviction.” When a preacher looked up and saw those in the audience under “conviction” or “awakened to their awful state,” he would invite them up to a bench in front of the pulpit, called the “altar” of God (fig. 21). There the penitents would pray and confess their sins, “crying aloud for mercy,” seeking forgiveness from God.”
(Grant Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”, Kindle Locations 2123-2156)

A Methodist camp meeting in 1819 (hand colored)

And for your reference here’s an extended excerpt from the account from Rev. Benjamin G. Paddock’s memoirs that Mr. Palmer cites from above:
THE Genesee Conference for 1826 was held at Palmyra, Wayne County, N. Y., commencing on the 7th of June, Bishop Hedding presiding. On several accounts it was a rather remarkable session. The venerable Bishop M’Kendree then visited us for the last time. He was too feeble to preside, and occupied the chair only once or twice, and then only for a few minutes at a time. Still, however, at the urgent request of Bishop Hedding and leading members of the Conference, he signed the Journals at the close of the session as one of its presiding officers. Brethren were anxious to secure at least his signature as a memorial of his visit. He had been familiar with the entire history of the Conference, and stated with tearful emotion that he still had great affection for its members, and that to take his final leave of them, so far, at least, as earth was concerned, was the special object of his visit. His whole bearing was at once so lovely, so dignified, and so impressive, that all were melted, and, in a pleasant sense, awed in his presence. Dr. Nathan Bangs was his traveling companion, having come on with him from New York, and watched over him with the greatest tenderness and care. Their respectful, nay, even deferential, treatment of each other was a most lovely sight. The Bishop always spoke of his companion as “the Doctor,” and addressed him as if he were a man of superior rank ; while the doctor’s reciprocal bearing was still more reverential and promptly obedient. But then neither bishops nor doctors of divinity were quite as numerous at that early day as they now are ; and for this reason, perhaps, as well as others, they were possibly both more noticed and more revered.

I have ever regarded it as one of the most memorable privileges of my early ministry that I was allowed to journey with these now sainted men from Palmyra to Utica,«at which latter place I had just been stationed for the second year. The Conference adjourned on Wednesday, and Dr. Bangs agreed to preach for me on the following Sabbath. Finding the captain of a canal boat, who said he would see us into Utica by Saturday afternoon or evening, we concluded to take passage with him. That was before the day of canal packets, so that a small cabin and slow progress were necessarily incidental to our homeward journey. The stage-coach would have given us a speedier transit, but would have been far less friendly to the good Bishop’s age and feebleness. It will be readily admitted, that the difference between such a conveyance and Pullman’s railroad palace-car is considerable. But forty-six years since even the cabin of a freight-boat was quite a .luxury ; while now to put a bishop into such a place would seem much like sending him “to prison and to death.” Our momentum was much less than had been promised, so that we were very late in reaching Utica. But, with such company, the considerable number of junior preachers on board could hardly complain that time hung heavy on their hands. Brief lectures from the Bishop and Dr. Bangs, with spiritual songs and prayers by the younger brotherhood, made our mimic cabin a little Bethel. The school was a rare one ; and, homesick as the students were, they could hardly have complained had the journey been still more protracted.

But to return to the Conference. On another account the session was remarkable. A great camp-meeting was held in connection with it. The ground was only about a mile from the village, so that members of the Conference not immediately and specially employed could take part in its services. At that early day, and previously, meetings of the kind were not unfrequently held in the neighborhood of our Annual Conferences ; but the present one was exceptionally large. There were more than one hundred tents on the ground, and these were occupied by our people from almost all parts of the country, many of them coming from a distance of one hundred miles or more. The. spirit of the meeting was admirable. Conversions were numerous and powerful ; while ministers and people seemed to vie with each other in their efforts to promote the work of God. But the Sabbath was the great day of the feast. Beginning in the morning at eight o’clock, five sermons were preached before the services closed in the evening. Bishop Heddig and Dr. Bangs took the two appointments nearest the meridian of the day, and preached with even more than their ordinary freedom and power. At about five in the afternoon the stand was assigned to the Rev. Glezen Fillmore, then in the vigor of mature manhood, now — for he still lives, a blessing to the Church and the world — trembling on the extreme verge of time. The sermon was in his best style — more carefully prepared and more effectively delivered than were his discourses generally. The latter part of it contemplated the whole process of personal salvation, from its incipiency to its consummation in the world of light. Having traced the track of the believer, all along from the dawn of spiritual life till he had entered the land of Beulah, and was about to plume himself for his flight to the celestial city, the speaker paused as if struggling with irrepressible emotion, and, looking upward, exclaimed, ” O God, hold thy servant together while for a moment he looks through the gates ajar into the New Jerusalem ! ” To describe the effect would be quite impossible. A tide of emotion swept over the congregation that seemed to carry all before it.

I was seated near Bishop Hedding, who, from fatigue, was reclining upon a bed under and a little in the rear of the stand. It had been noticed before that he was much affected by the sermon ; but when the sentence given above was uttered, the- tears almost literally spurted from his eyes, and his noble form shook as if under the resistless control of a galvanic battery. The Rev. Goodwin Stoddard exhorted, and invited seekers within the circle of prayer in front of the stand. Hundreds came forward ; some said nearly every unconverted person on the ground. In the spring of 1828, when I was pastor in Rochester, delegates from New England, on their way to the General Conference in Pittsburgh, called and spent the Sabbath with me. Almost ,the first thing they said after we met was, ” Where is that brother that wanted God to hold him together while he looked into heaven a moment?” It seems that the good Bishop had reported the sermon in more circles than one, for others from the east made a similar inquiry. But though a volume might be written about that Conference, it seems proper now simply to add, that, at the close of it, B. G. Paddock and Hiram May were appointed to the Potsdam Circuit, in St. Lawrence County. The charge was a very large one, including not only the town that gave name to it, but Stockholm, Parishville, Pierrepont, Canton, Russell, Edwards, Fowler, Rossie, Gouverneur, “and De Kalb. The territory was so ample, and my brother’s health so much broken, that it was thought best to divide the work between the two preachers. Accordingly, having the consent of all concerned, he took Potsdam and the four townships lying nearest to it ; and the rest of the circuit, embracing six townships, was placed under the care of his excellent colleague. Let the reader imagine the state of things as it existed in that section of country fifty years since, and he will readily conclude that there was plenty of work for two men. My brother had traveled over most of the same territory some twelve or thirteen years previously, so that he entered upon his work with some special advantages. The cordiality with which he was received was a source of much comfort to him, and really seemed to lighten his toil. The Rev. Hiram May, in a letter to me dated October, 1872, says, “Your brother was not only a dear, good colleague, but was very popular among the people.”

Both divisions of the circuit were greatly prospered. – It was, indeed, a year of jubilee. Revivals swept over the entire field, bearing down all opposition. Such a season of holy triumph had never before been witnessed in the northern wing of the State. Not far from five hundred communicants were admitted to the Church ; so that it was found at the end of the year that the membership had increased from three hundred and eighty-nine to eight hundred and nine, and this notwithstanding a considerable number had removed or withdrawn,” or had been excluded, dropped, or set aside. The circuit remained intact, however, save only in so far as finances and pastoral care were concerned. Hence, at quarterly meetings, all came together ; thus giving the greatest imaginable interest to those occasions. Speaking of them in the letter before referred to, brother May says, ” 0 they were blessed meetings ! God gave efficiency to his word, and great’was the preachers’ crowd.” * Those, and those only, who have attended these great country quarterly meetings can have any adequate conception of the spirit that animated them, or the good that followed them. They were, indeed, especially in olden times, a power in the Church.

I think it proper to say a word further respecting the venerable man from whose letter quotations have just been made. The writer first became acquainted with him in 1817. He had then just commenced the Christian life, was a lovely young man, full of zeal to do good, possessed ,a remarkably fine tenor voice, and, every way, promised much usefulness to the Church and the world. Five years thereafter he was received on trial in the Genesee Conference, and for forty years has performed effective service as a member of that body. He has always aimed at the salvation of souls, and has everywhere been recognized as a good revivalist. Though he is now on the superannuated list, he seems still to burn with zeal both to be and to do good. The closing part of his letter is so characteristic and so excellent, that the transcription of it will, doubtless, both please and profit the reader. Referring to my brother, he says: “We labored together in love, and parted in peace, and now, while ‘ he sleeps his last sleep,’ having ‘fought his last battle,’ I, a poor creature, as I always have been, am still living, and trying, as when you first knew me, to ‘ sound the alarm in God’s holy mountain,’ to ‘ blow the trumpet in Tekoa,’ and* especially to pray, as did David, ‘ Now also, when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not ; until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.’ ”
(Benjamn G. Paddock, “Memoir of of Rev. Benjamin G. Paddock”, pp.177-184)

So here’s the question for our Mormon friends: Can you explain the remarkable similarities between King Benjamin’s circa 124 B.C. address that’s recorded in Mosiah 2-5 of The Book of Mormon and Methodist Leader Bishop M’Kendree’s address in Palmyra, New York, on June 7, 1826, that’s preserved for us in the American historical archives?

A summary comparison of the two addresses.

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