Every one of us lives in a constant state of change. The acknowledgement of this fact often leaves believers grieved by their responses to the trials of life, as well as by their lack of spiritual progress. They know how they should respond in the storms of life, and that they are supposed to be growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; but they frequently find themselves sinking under the tumultuous difficulties and “stumbling in many ways” (James 3:2). When we do the things we do not want to do (Rom. 7:15–20), we discover a spiritual unrest welling up in the soul. This is, in itself, a gracious working since it is meant to lead us back to God for pardon and power. However, the sense of grief over the ways that we have sinned against God does not restore spiritual stability to our souls. Only the unchangeable character of God can do this in light of the fulfillment of His promises in Christ.
My family loves to sing Horatius Bonar’s hymn, “I Hear the Words of Love.” My favoirte lines in that hymn is those in which Bonar contrasts the ever changing nature of sinful man with the unchangeable nature of the risen and reigning Christ:
“My love is ofttimes low,
My joy still ebbs and flows,
But peace with Him remains the same,
No change my Savior knows.
I change, He changes not;
The Christ can never die;
His love, not mine, the resting-place,
His truth, not mine, the tie.”
Though the winds of change blow around us, and though our affections for Christ ebb and flow, we find a resting place to which we return in the truth that Jesus is “the same yesertday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The same Jesus who calmed the winds and the waves with a word is the same Jesus who today can calm our troubled hearts with a word (Luke 8:24). The Jesus who wept at the tomb of Lazarus, is the Jesus who now sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Heb. 4:16). The Christ who hung on the cross and cried out, “Father, forgive them,” is the same Christ who continues to be an advocate for His people when they sin (1 John 2:1–2). Having died once for the sins of His people, Jesus can never die again. “He always lives . . .” to care for the needs of believers. Reflecting on this truth, Sinclair Ferguson notes,
“If I had been the author of Hebrews . . . I would have said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.” I mean, that fits better, doesn’t it? It kind of, it’s the universe of discourse, you’re talking about yesterday, today, tomorrow, and he is the same tomorrow, but the glorious thing is that he is the same all tomorrows.”
This should stir up my heart–no matter how cold my affections may be, and no matter how far I have turned from Him–to return to Him. The same unchangeable character of Christ is the unchangeable character of God. The writer of Hebrews expressed this is the strongest possible way, when he explained the unchangeable nature of God and His covenant promises that have been fulfilled in Christ. He wrote,
“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.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” (Heb. 6:17–20).”
When we acknowledge that the instability of our hearts in the midst of the storms of life, we need the hope of a spiritual anchor for our souls. The unchanging Christ is the anchor. He has entered the heavenly places for His people–having finished the work of redemption. He has fulfilled the eternal purposes of God and the covenant promises given to Abraham. In his commentary on Hebrews, John Owen explained the importance of the metaphor, when he wrote,
“The souls of believers are sometimes exposed unto storms; and a stress of spiritual dangers, persecutions, afflictions, temptations, fears, sin, death, and the law, do make up these storms that ofttimes beat upon them . . . There are degrees in them, and some are far more urgent than others, as storms are of various sorts; but generally all of them have one degree or other of fierceness and violence . . .
. . . All true believers are exposed to storms and tempests in this world.—This makes anchors so necessary for them. The wise God would not have provided an anchor for them, and enjoined its use, if he had not known they would be exposed unto storms. He that dwells at peace in his house, of all things thinks least of an anchor. But we are to look for storms. Suppose we might pass our time of sojourning here without outward troubles,—which yet he is exceedingly unwise who promises unto himself any such thing, whilst we are in the flesh, and accompanied with so many occasions of distress on every hand,—yet who can escape from those inward trials, exercises, and troubles, from temptations, darkness, sin, and the law, wherewith we are often tossed and afflicted, and it may be for a season not comforted?”1
The Christian can have the strongest possible confidence that God cannot and will not change. He cannot and will not lie. This means that even when I feel most unstable in my ever changing affections, God and His promise does not change. This gives us the greatest possible encouragement to go to Him, casting ourselves and our burdens upon Him–knowing that He will always undertake for those who come to Him in faith (1 Pet. 5:7). After all, the covenant keeping Redeemer, Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
1. John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 22, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), 284–285.