At one of the many shipyards dotting Canada’s East Coast, another great oceangoing vessel is very nearly complete, and in just a few weeks it will begin to transport containers across the Atlantic. But before it can embark on its maiden voyage, it must endure a strict regimen of tests. Waters flood the dry dock and, for the first time, the great ship floats. Its propellors rumble to life and it slowly steers into deep waters where it can test its mighty engines, its mechanisms for steering, its systems of navigation. It must also test its anchors, for no ship can safely venture to sea that does not have working anchors. Yet the captain knows that the anchors can only truly be tested in a storm. It is when the storm is rising, when the winds are howling, when the waves are crashing against the hull, that the anchors are put to their fullest test.
I first professed Christ in sunny days, first claimed his promises when all was calm and still. I cast my anchor and latched it onto the rock on a day when the surface was undisturbed by the least wind or wave. And at many times I have marveled at how easy my life has been, at how little suffering and sorrow I have experienced along the way. The anchor of my faith has held fast, but I’ve always known it has never faced more than a mild pull, a gentle strain. I’ve always wondered if it could withstand much more.
As a ship’s anchors are put to the test in a storm, my faith has been put to the test in these days of sorrow. The moment Nick died it was like a great hurricane struck my life. The winds suddenly blew hard, the rains poured down, the waves rose fierce and strong. The chain pulled taut, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it might break free.
The hymn-writer Edward Mote once considered the nature of faith in times of trial and decided to compose a hymn on the theme. Taking inspiration from the parable of Jesus, in which he contrasted the futility of building a house upon the sand with the wisdom of building a house upon a rock, he wrote:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
And then the well-known, raise-your-hands, sing-it-in-triumph chorus:
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.
Mote acknowledges that Christ is the rock, the only firm foundation upon which to build our faith. But in the second stanza he changes his metaphor ever so slightly, from anchoring a foundation to anchoring a ship. Now the storm is not blowing against a home on the shore, but a ship on the sea.
When darkness seems to hide his face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
Now the skies are dark, the waves are pounding, the winds are howling. A feeble little ship is afloat on the waters, bobbing on the waves, threatened by this terrible tempest. But look at the anchor! This anchor does not lead down into the depths of the ocean. The ship’s captain is not hoping against hope that it will secure itself against a rock on the floor of the sea. Rather, the chain leads up—up to the skies and up to the heavens. The chain leads through the torn veil of the temple and into the holy of holies, the place where Christ has entered, the place where Christ now dwells. Look again, look closer, and you will see that the anchor is not hooked against him, but held fast in his almighty hands. Little wonder, then, Mote can say, “When all around my soul gives way, / he then is all my hope and stay.”
Christ is his anchoring point because Christ has accomplished the work of redemption. His anchor is fastened to the one who shed his blood to forgive our sins, the one who has given us his own righteousness so we can stand before God as beloved children. And Mote knows that the God who saves is also the God who preserves. Those who have truly cast their anchor to him have no need to worry that the anchor will slip, that the chain will break, that the ship will be set adrift, for the God who saved us will not lose us, the God who holds us fast will not let us go.
The anchor of my faith held in the moment of the first alarming text messages, when the winds began to rise and the waters began to swell. It held when I received the dreaded phone call, when the storm unleashed its fury and great waves began to pound against me. It held through the memorial and funeral services, when the eye of the storm passed over us with its preternatural calm. It held through the aches and agonies that followed, when I could barely hear above the howl of the wind, barely see through the driving rain. My faith, my anchor, has held, but not because I have been rowing hard, not because I have been steering well, not because I am made of rugged stuff, not because I am a man of mighty faith. It has held fast because it is held firm in the nail-scarred hands of the one who died and rose for me. He, by his grace, has held me safe thus far, and he, by his grace, will hold me to the end. I have every confidence that my anchor will hold—that my anchor will be held—until he at last delivers me to that safe harbor far across these troubled seas.
(The line “as a ship’s anchors are put to the test in a storm…” is drawn from Theodore Cuyler.)