“The Surety of a Better Testament,” Ensign, Sept. 2003, 2–6
The Apostle Paul was well acquainted with the adjustment in thinking needed when moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament. It is a journey from the rigid formality of the letter of the law taught by Moses to the spiritual guidance found in the Holy Spirit.
In his epistle to the Hebrews, Paul described this adjustment: “For the law [of Moses] made nothing perfect, but [was only] the bringing in of a better hope … ; by the which we draw nigh unto God. … [And] by so much was Jesus made [the] surety of a better testament” (Heb. 7:19, 22; see also Joseph Smith Translation, Heb. 7:19–20).
It is important that we study, learn, and live the hard doctrines taught by the Savior—“[the] surety of a better testament”—that our Christlike behavior may move us up to a much higher level of spiritual attainment.
What is a surety? We find in turning to the dictionary that surety is a “state of being sure”; it is also a pledge “given for the fulfillment of an undertaking”; it also refers to “one who has become legally liable for the debt, default, or failure in duty of another.”1 Does not the Savior, with His mission, have claim upon all these meanings?
What is a testament? To us, the primary meaning of testament is that it is a covenant with God. It is also holy scripture, a will, a witness, a tangible proof, an expression of conviction.2 So the Savior as a surety is a guarantor of a better covenant with God.
The New Testament is “a better testament” because the intent of a person alone becomes part of the rightness or wrongness of human action. So our intent to do evil or our desire to do good will be a freestanding element of consideration of our actions. We are told we will be judged in part by the intent of our hearts (see D&C 88:109). An example of being convicted by freestanding intent is found in Matthew:
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:27–28).
This New Testament is harder doctrine.
Because of the formality and rigidity developed in the administration of the old English common law, in order to obtain justice the law of equity was developed. One of my favorite maxims in equity is “Equity does what ought to be done.” The New Testament takes the concept of law even farther. In a large measure we will be judged not only by what we have done but what we should have done in a given situation.
Much of the spirit of this higher law of the New Testament is found in the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus taught that His law requires a reconciliation of differences with others before coming unto Him:
“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
“Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23–24).
Another example of the harder doctrine is this passage, in which swearing is completely prohibited:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
“But I say unto you, Swear not at all. …
“But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matt. 5:33–34, 37).
The text that follows is more of the hard doctrine of the New Testament:
“Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
“And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. …
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:39–40, 43–44).
In the New Testament, the Savior teaches a new and higher form and content of prayer. It is profoundly simple and uncomplicated.
“When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
“Give us this day our daily bread.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen” (Matt. 6:7–13).
Also in the New Testament, the Savior teaches that the doing of our good works ought to be done a better way, namely in secret:
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
“That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:3–4).
But the greatest challenge, the hardest doctrine, is also found in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
As “the mediator of the new testament” (Heb. 9:15), the Savior also introduced a higher law of marriage. When some Pharisees came to Him and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” (Mark 10:2), He answered:
“From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
“And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.
“What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:6–9).
The challenge Jesus issued was for people to replace the rigid, technical “thou shalt not” of the law of Moses—needed by the spiritually immature ancient children of Israel—with the spirit of the “better testament.” How was this to be done? Time was short. The Savior had only three years. How should He begin? Obviously He must begin with the Apostles and the small group of disciples around Him who would have the responsibility to carry on the work afterward.
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961), a counselor in the First Presidency, describes this challenge as follows: “This task involved the overturning, the virtual outlawing, of the centuries-old Mosaic law of the Jews, and the substitution therefor of the Gospel of Christ.”3
It was not easy for even Jesus’ Apostles to understand. Thomas was an example of their lack of comprehension. Thomas had heard the Savior, on several occasions, foretell of His death and Resurrection. Yet when Thomas was told that the resurrected Christ lived, he said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Perhaps Thomas can be forgiven because so great an event had never happened before.
Peter’s conversion to the great principle that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone is another example of this slowness to comprehend. He had been an eyewitness, as he stated in 2 Peter: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16). To what had he been an eyewitness? He had been an eyewitness to everything in the Savior’s ministry.
Following Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan at the well of Jacob, Peter had seen the Savior welcome the Samaritans, who were loathed by the Jews (see John 4). But when Peter saw a vision and heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15), he was thoroughly confused. Finally, when Peter was fully converted to the instruction and had received a spiritual confirmation, he “opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34–35).
The Apostles eventually did come to understand and embrace the “better testament.” We are grateful for their profound statements as “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” They form part of the footings of our faith in the higher law taught by the Savior.
It is so strengthening to review the testimonies of the Apostles that Jesus is, in fact, the Christ. These testimonies are also “a surety of a better testament.” For example, following the great bread of life sermon, in which the Savior made clear to those who had been fed by the loaves and fishes that He and His doctrine were the bread of life, John records:
“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
“Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:66–69).
But the miracles performed by the Savior and the testimonies of those who saw and heard were far from convincing to everyone. This is perhaps because a testimony is such a personal, spiritual conviction.
The New Testament is “a better testament” because so much is left to the intent of the heart and of the mind and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This refinement of the soul is part of the reinforcing steel of a personal testimony of Jesus Christ. If there is no witness in the heart and in the mind by the power of the Holy Ghost, there can be no testimony.
Let us study, learn, and live the hard doctrines the Savior taught in the New Testament, that our Christlike behavior may move us up to a much higher level of spiritual attainment.
After you prayerfully prepare, share this message using a method that encourages the participation of those you teach. A few examples follow:
Ask family members to name some commandments that they think are the hardest to keep. Read a few of the harder and higher doctrines mentioned by President Faust, and discuss why each can be difficult to live. Read and discuss the last two paragraphs. Bear your testimony of the Savior’s New Testament doctrine.
Show a Bible, and invite family members to share thoughts or feelings about the New Testament and the Old Testament. Ask them what they think are some of the differences between the two books. Read the first three paragraphs of this message. Share some of President Faust’s teachings as to why the New Testament is “a better testament.” Show a painting of Jesus Christ, and express your gratitude for the New Testament.