A Sure and Steadfast Anchor

In my previous post, we considered the personal rebuke and sober warning found in Hebrews 5:11–6:8, and the questions raised concerning assurance of salvation. As we learned, that passage does not teach that a genuine believer in Jesus Christ can lose her salvation. But where do we find assurance of salvation? Knowing that genuine believers cannot fall out of salvation is a relief, but what holds us secure? The passages that follow anchor our understanding of assurance and perseverance firmly in our Lord Jesus Christ and the promises of God.

First, the writer of Hebrews assures his readers that he is certain they are saved because of the fruit of love and mutual care they have shown one another, and he desires that they will each “show the same earnestness to have the full assurance until the end” (Heb. 6:9–11). This reminds us of the truth that bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) is a sure sign of salvation, even in infant believers. He then calls them to imitate “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12), namely, Abraham, whose example he now sets before them.

Here’s where the assurance comes in.

Beginning in verse 13, the writer reminds us of God’s promise to Abraham, which Abraham obtained after patiently waiting. The focus of this reminder rests heavily on the oath God swore to guarantee the promise:

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath,so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. —Hebrews 6:13–18

God, being the Sovereign, Omnipotent Ruler of all of creation is able to keep his word. Being infallibly trustworthy, he has no need to swear an oath. Yet, to accommodate Abraham’s weakness, he guaranteed his promise with an oath, swearing by his own holy name. And not only Abraham’s weakness, but ours as well. Did you catch it? God desired . . . [that] we . . . might have strong encouragement (6:17–18). His purpose is unchanging, but we, the heirs of the promise, need help to believe.

But which promise? The episode referred to is found in Genesis 22, after Abraham obeyed God’s call to sacrifice Isaac and was interrupted by the angel of the LORD, who then reiterated the promise first given to Abraham in Genesis 15:

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” —Genesis 22:16–18

Richard Phillips explains: “This inviolable promise, secured by an oath, . . . is the foundation of our own assurance and hope.” For:

“. . . while Abraham was the recipient of this great promise, we are its objects. It has reference to us. When God took Abraham out beneath the dark sky and pointed to the countless specks of light [Gen. 15:5], he was pointing to us. God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and in Christ Jesus we are those descendants, we are those of the nations blessed through him.

. . . . Through faith in Christ—who is the promised offspring of grace, in whom all the promises are received, obtained, and fulfilled—we like Abraham become God’s children and heirs with him of all the blessings of salvation. This means that when you put your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation—for forgiveness of sin and adoption into God’s family—you can be certain of that salvation. You can be sure because God promised a vast starry host of spiritual descendants to Abraham through his one special descendant, Jesus Christ. In receiving you through faith, God is honoring his promise not merely to you but also to his own son, Jesus, and fulfilling the inviolable promise sworn by an oath upon himself, given to Abraham so long ago.

. . . . The Puritan Samuel Rutherford thus remarks: ‘Our hope is not hung up on such an untwisted thread as “I imagined so,” or “it is likely”; But the cable, the strong rope of our fastened anchor, is the oath and promise of Him who is eternal verity. Our salvation is fastened with God’s own hand, and Christ’s own strength, to the strong stake of God’s unchangeable nature.”[1]

But wait, there’s more.

The “strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” is followed by this assurance:

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. —Hebrews 6:19–20

Saving the discussion of Melchizedek for our next lesson, Phillips clarifies that the point being made is that “Christ will never be replaced in his heavenly mission for us. He will never fail, and never die.”[2] What is his mission? According to these two verses, his mission is to hold us securely in our faith so that we persevere to the end. When we speak of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and remark that it’s also referred to as the preservation of the saints, the distinction being made is highlighted here in Hebrews chapter 6. Like Abraham, we are to persevere in our faith, patiently waiting on God and fleeing to him for refuge, which is our Spirit-enabled responsibility. But here in 19–20 we discover how Christ preserves his saints, which is his responsibility to fulfill God’s promise by being the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls.

There’s a depth to this picture which I never realized until I heard Richard Phillips preaching this passage years ago at First Presbyterian Church in Margate, Florida. It was this sermon which God used to finally drive away any doubts that my salvation in Christ was eternally secure.

“Jesus came to earth to live and die for us, and when he returned to heaven, it was also for our sake, to affix the anchor of our hope sure and steadfast in the inner sanctum of heaven itself. In the great promises of God, secured in Christ, we therefore have a cable of salvation that nothing can break or destroy, so that we can be certain of arriving safe in the harbor of heaven.

“Forerunner” is yet another of the nautical terms used in Hebrews. The particular word here, prodromos, is one that appears nowhere else in Scripture, but has to do with a familiar scene in the ancient world. Louis Talbot explains:

The Greek harbors were often cut off from the sea by sandbars over which the larger ships dared not pass till the full tide came in. Therefore, a lighter vessel, a “forerunner,” took the anchor and dropped it in the harbor. From that moment the ship was safe from the storm, although it had to wait for the tide, before it could enter the harbor. . . . The entrance of the small vessel into the harbor, the forerunner carrying the ship’s anchor, was the pledge that the ship would safely enter the harbor when the tide was full. And because Christ, our “forerunner,” has entered heaven itself, having torn asunder everything that separates the redeemed sinner from the very presence of God, He Himself is the pledge that we, too, shall one day enter the harbor of our souls and the very presence of God, in the new Jerusalem.[3]

Can unforeseen circumstances break the line of this great anchor? Can the work of men, the temptations of the devil, or the hostility of the world sever a cord forged and placed by God himself? Can your sin break the line to this great anchor? The answer to all of these is No. God is greater than them all, and his oath shall overrule every opposition. Believers are saved and are safe because of God’s oath-bound promise, secured and made fast by the finished work of Jesus Christ.”[4]

We who have fled to Christ for refuge have the strongest of encouragements to persevere in our faith. For we are not only the objects of God’s unbreakable promise to Abraham, we are also his beloved children and heirs of that promise. God’s promise to us is secured not only by his oath, but by Christ, who will hold us securely—regardless of the stormy seas we must endure in this life—because he has set our sure and steadfast anchor into the soil of heaven itself. “Our hope of salvation is attached by the finished work of Christ to the secure foundation of the unchangeable character of God.”[5] Christian, if you are in Christ, your salvation is secure; he will preserve you to the end.

And then, we will join with the “myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” —Revelation 5:11–12

[1] Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), p. 214-215

[2] Ibid. 216

[3] Louis Talbot, Studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 23.

[4] Phillips, 217.

[5] Ibid. 216.

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