“In my gospel study this year, how can I get the most out of the New Testament?” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 38–39
F. Craig Sudbury, bishop of the Princeton Ward, Salt Lake Park Stake
As a teacher of English, I am interested in words. As a bishop and a member of the Church, I am intensely interested in the words of the Lord. So when the Lord exhorts us to “search the scriptures” (John 5:39), I am convinced that he means more than simply to read or enjoy them. I think the key to getting the most out of our study of the New Testament this year is found in an analysis of the word search.
1. To search is to look over and through for the purpose of finding something. Let us consider this definition with a special emphasis on the word purpose. What is our purpose for searching the New Testament this year? We need to accept the fact that the Lord wants us to search the scriptures of the New Testament, particularly at this time. It is no accident that the New Testament is the Church-correlated course of study for Melchizedek Priesthood, the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine class, and the Relief Society spiritual living lessons.
The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in 1834: “No month ever found me more busily engaged than November; but as my life consisted of activity and unyielding exertions, I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it.” (History of the Church 2:170.) Therefore, knowing that the Lord wants us to search the scriptures and that he, through his inspired leaders, has designated the New Testament as the scriptures to search, it simply remains for all of us to do it. Our purpose, then, is to obey.
Of course, it would be very difficult to embrace a personal commitment to study without also making a commitment to attend the meetings designated for the investigation of these gospel truths. Those who so prepare and so attend should also participate in class, helping to make the class a thought-provoking and spiritually stimulating experience for all.
2. To search is to look for, to try to find. We will get more out of our study of the New Testament as we increase our ability to find specific scriptures within its 27 books. It would be a simple procedure to print in the manuals the scriptures applicable to each discussion topic. The basic manual, however, is the New Testament itself. Why? Because it is our individual responsibility to find as we search the scriptures. Indeed, the simple procedure of taking our scriptures to class will help us to get more out of our study of the New Testament this year.
3. To search is to go over and examine. A scripture found but not examined is like an ordinance performed without the priesthood; the source of power is missing. How we read the scriptures will determine their influence upon us. Brigham Young once asked, “Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them?” He then counseled, “If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 128.)
What a great experience it would be to follow President Young’s counsel! Husbands and wives could read the scriptures together, as well as alone. Families could spend time together reading and discussing the word of God as recorded in the New Testament. As we truly examine the scriptures, we will not only appreciate the spirit in which they were originally written, but we will also come to know their meaning for us today.
4. To search is to test, to put to the test. After examining and pondering the New Testament scriptures, each member of the Church must put the scriptures to the test in a manner unique to his personal needs. This is the rare kind of test that provides the answers to our problems and to our gospel questions. The prophet Brigham Young, speaking of the scriptures, provides us this assurance: “… they are of great worth to a person wandering in darkness. They are like a lighthouse in the ocean, or a finger-post which points out the road we should travel. Where do they point? To the Fountain of light.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 127.)
As we put the Scriptures to the test, we also put ourselves to the test. We test our ability to really communicate with our Father in heaven as we seek for answers. We prove our ability to regard the scriptures as personal advice and sound doctrine.
Our search is not an aimless one. As we determine a purpose, try to find, carefully examine, and then test, we are promised understanding. As a result of our searching the scriptures the Prophet Joseph Smith tells us, “You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 11–12.)
It is important to realize, though, that the scriptures come only through the influence of the Holy Ghost, and that we must rely upon that same influence for our own understanding. We must place our lives in line with the will of God; we must seek him earnestly in prayer. Those who only partially do these things will certainly find comfort and strength in the scriptures, but those who seek the Lord with all their hearts will find great insight and increased power of understanding.
The Lord will help us to get the most out of our study of the New Testament this year as we make our own personal commitments to search the scriptures.