I remember the fearful days of my troubled, weak and feeble faith in Christ. It seemed I was in constant anguish, the anguish of not knowing whether you have true peace with God. The kind of peace David describes in Psalm 32 when he says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2).”* I was younger then and ignorant to the truths of Reformed Christianity, and much like the majority of the broader evangelical world I believed that my standing with God was conditioned upon the strength and consistency of not only my faith but also my performance. The problem was simple, I was back then and still am a very inconsistent Christian. I knew deep down that if my eternal destiny depended upon my own ability to be faithful to Christ, in the fullest sense, I was a dead man. “What if I go to sleep before confessing all my iniquities and wake up in hell?” “What if God casts me out because I can’t serve him faithfully and keep falling into sin?” This was the source of my misery. I was a young man who had committed his life to Jesus who in one moment was the picture of an ideal Christian and in the next moment was living like a heathen in the world. The guilt would pour in, the fear would cripple me, the hypocrisy would drive me insane.
Years later by God’s grace I would mature in my faith and grow in godliness, but there was still that sense of unease. As though God were watching me, waiting for me to slip up so he could catch me in my sin and cast me into hell. It wasn’t until in the providence of God I came to Reformed convictions by studying the scriptures, that I really did discover true, restful peace with my Creator. Because of my experience the perseverance of the saints has always been the most precious doctrine of grace to me which carried great devotional and practical power. Embracing that the Lord would never leave me nor forsake me was when I finally realized what Christ meant when he said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”
A huge part of that discovery came by coming to grips with the biblical notion of Christ as our Surety. Now if you read the word ‘surety’ and had no idea what I was talking about, then you are exactly in the same place I was when I first heard it. My first exposure to the word was actually not in scripture, nor in a Puritan writing, but in a song written by William Gadsby entitled The Love of Christ is Rich and Free. He wrote these beautiful and precious words about his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
His loving heart engaged to be
Their everlasting Surety;
Twas love that took their cause in hand,
And love maintains it to the end.
Love cannot from its post withdraw;
Nor death, nor hell, nor sin, nor law,
Can turn the Surety’s heart away;
He’ll love his own to endless day.
In the Bible the word ‘surety’ can only be found in one place, and only in older translations such as the KJV or the NKJV. The one place it is used is in Hebrews 7:22 where the author, in conjunction with his argument about Christ’s everlasting and unchanging Melchizedekian priesthood, says, “by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.” It is a word which is no longer used colloquially, but I believe it is a word that has deep meaning and can bring great comfort to the life of a doubting, weak and troubled believer. When I first heard those wonderful words in song I cried tears of joyful gratitude to the Lord who had purchased me. But it also drive me to God’s Word to discover what it means for Christ to be our Surety. If you look up ‘surety’ in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary you will find this definition. “One who has become legally liable for the debt, default, or failure in duty of another”
For the writer to the Hebrews, the use of the word engyos is intentional in the building of his argument. He is presenting to the readers the reality that Christ is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises, that the New Covenant is truly better in every way than the Old. And even though in my past I was not an ethnic Israelite considering going back to Moses, functionally I was living like one. My confidence was not in Christ but in my own character, not in the Prince of Peace but in my own performance. Therefore the plea of the book of Hebrews to not go back to that which is fading away, to a system which cannot save but only condemn, is the same one all troubled, weak and feeble in faith Christians need to hear today. And it was that plea which the Spirit of God spoke into my heart the day that I came to see Christ as my Surety.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews reveals Christ’s role as surety of a better covenant within his argument for the Savior being the great and final High Priest. The typology of the High Priest in the Old Testament could have an essay of its own but for my purposes today I will use the classic example of the High Priest’s function in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement the High Priest would, after slaughtering a bull to make atonement for his own sins, and slaughtering a goat to make atonement for the sins of the people of Israel, enter into the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the mercy seat “because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins (Leviticus 16:16).” We see in the Day of Atonement a type of Christ and his perfect and final atonement upon the Cross. Like the first goat Christ is killed outside the city of Jerusalem, and like the scapegoat he suffered a substitutionary judgment. Christ’s atoning sacrifice is the Day of Atonement come into its own, it is the Good Friday of the Old Testament, it is the eschatological fulfillment of Yom Kippur. But inasmuch as Christ can be seen in the sacrifices of Yom Kippur themselves he can also be seen in the office of High Priest.
The author of Hebrews argues a couple of key points concerning the insufficiency of the Old Testament High Priest and the necessity of a new, better and eternal High Priest. In the Day of Atonement we see that Aaron must first make propitiation for his own sins before he can enter into the Holy of Holies. We also see that this act is only performed once a year, and the writer to the Hebrews points out that the human nature of the priests meant that “they were prevented by death from continuing (Hebrews 7:23).” Yet Christ our Savior, High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, has entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven by his own perfect atoning blood to eternally sit at the right hand of the Father, forever interceding for us. And because of this the writer of the Hebrews can say, “by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22).” The eternal, unchanging nature of Christ’s office as Priest is directly tied to the author’s confidence in the Lord of Glory’s ability to redeem, completely. “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24-25).”
Believer, Christ is not only our Surety because he made himself legally liable for the debt of our sins against a holy God. He is also our Surety because he is the basis of our confidence and security. By faith in Christ we have union with him, we have communion with him. His blood becomes an unbreakable bond, such that his perfect sinless life becomes our life, his atoning death our death, his eternal resurrection our resurrection. It is not your consistency that counts but rather the Christ’s. It is not your performance that matters but rather the Messiah’s. And when you recognize that, as I did, when you see Christ as your Surety, you do not respond by saying “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)” No rather your grateful heart says with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20).”
If you are reading this and are living in the midst of troubled days of weak and feeble faith, in constant anguish, not knowing whether you have peace with God. If you are reading this today and are putting your confidence in the fortitude of your own faith and the power of your own performance, suffering under the uncertain gaze of a holy and wrathful God, I pray you would come to experience the peace of knowing Christ as your Surety. I pray that you would come to look upon him and trust that he “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 1:24).” Believer, read the words of this song and be amazed by the love of your Savior, your great and precious Surety.
Love has redeemed His sheep with blood;
And love will bring them safe to God;
Love calls them all from death to life;
And love will finish all their strife.
He loves through every changing scene,
Nor aught from Him can Zion wean;
Not all the wanderings of her heart
Can make His love for her depart.
At death, beyond the grave, He’ll love;
In endless bliss, His own shall prove
The blazing glory of that love
Which never could from them remove.
Which never could from them remove.
*All scriptures in this article quoted from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.