A Modern Hymn for the Storms of Life

I write this morning with a deep sense of my own insufficiencies. It is a fitting irony to be thinking about a song like this at a time like this…

“Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” is a modern hymn written by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell, two names that are familiar to many followers of an encouraging trend in church music over the past couple decades. It is also a song that we recently sang as a congregation for the first time.

In his brief description about the hymn, Papa writes:

“Playing up the metaphor of the sea, storms and the wind, the song is crafted around the idea of holding onto Christ (The Anchor) when trials are high in our lives. The first verse opens with the singer sinking in the midst of their storm. The next few verses remind us that, as the strength of the tempest grows, so does the ability of Christ as the anchor to root in deeper while we cling to Him; despite temptation, weakness and unbelief, we are assured of Christ’s steadfastness” (mod.).

Storms, Sin, Doubt & Death

Verse 1: Storms

The verses of “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” deal with a few of the most common areas of life for the believer. Verse one, as the ‘about’ snippet suggests, starts off with the general storms of life and the suffering and doubt they often entail. It ends, however, as all four verses do, with the reality that Jesus himself is our hope, the anchor of our soul, firm and secure (Heb. 6.19-20).

Verse 2: Sin

Verse two talks about failure and sin in the face of temptation, and the ‘just accusation’ that is ours in our guilt. I am reminded here of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 3, who, in his dirty robes, was the target of Satan’s accusations, but who was given new, clean robes at the command of the Lord. In the same way, just like Joshua, we are justly accused because of our own uncleanness, but clean because of the grace of God who independently acts to remove our uncleanness when we are justified by faith in the guilt-clearing death of Jesus instead of us—which is exactly where verse two ends. When the guilt of my sin abounds, the anchor of my righteousness goes even deeper, keeping me firmly established in the love of God in Christ (Rom. 5.20).

Verse 3: Doubt

Verse three appears to deal with the hopelessness that many Christians experience who battle against the complacency of unbelief. As a new believer, I had a friend who had been a Christian much longer than I had who wrestled for years with dark, intense bouts of just that kind of unbelief. I used to try to sympathize with him and tell him about my own struggles to seek the face of God, and he would respond by saying, “Yes, but at least you want to want to seek him. I wrestle with not caring that I don’t care.”

J. Gresham Machen had similar experiences to this in his years of New Testament doctoral study in Germany in 1905-06, during which he sat under some of most able scholars of theological liberalism. He wrote about some of those experiences in his short biographical essay entitled “Christianity in Conflict.”

In a lengthy but worthwhile quote, Machen writes:

“…it was a time of struggle and of agony of soul… We pass sometimes through periods of very low spiritual vitality. The wonderful gospel which formerly seemed to be so glorious comes to seem almost like an idle tale. Hosts of objections arise in our minds; the whole unseen world recedes in the dim distance, and we think for the moment that we have relinquished the Christian hope…[and] life seems to us to be a hopeless blank… [I]n those dark hours when the lamp burned dim, when I thought that faith was gone and shipwreck had been made of my soul, “Christ,” [my mother] used to say, “keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on him…” That means, at least…that we ought to distrust our moods. Many a man has fallen into despair because…passing through the dull lowlands of life, he takes such experience as though it were permanent… Faith is often diversified by doubt, but a man should not desert the conviction of his better moments because the dark moments come. But my mother’s word meant something far deeper than all that. It meant rather that salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves…in Christ. No, we are saved because, having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever.”

And that is exactly where verse three of “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” ends: when the floods of unbelief rip through my hopeless soul, it is then that I must ‘lift my eyes to Calvary,’ to the true ballast of my assurance, which is not my own experience, but the all-sufficient, substitutionary, reconciling death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

What is a ‘Ballast’?

Verse three says that ‘this,’ i.e., Calvary, is my ‘ballast of assurance.’ So what exactly is a ballast? Well, in keeping with the nautical theme, a ballast is essentially the weight at the bottom of a ship that keeps it upright and prevents it from capsizing. And the song says that Calvary is the ballast of my assurance.

Think about what this is saying: The ballast that guarantees the non-capsizability of my salvation is not my own performance, not my moods, not my consistency, not my faithfulness, not my sincerity, not the fact that I prayed a prayer, walked the aisle, or signed a card, but that Jesus has died instead of me. It is the death of Christ that ensures my salvation cannot be capsized. His death is the ballast of my assurance. Again, in the words of Machen, “salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves…in Christ. No, we are saved because, having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever.”

It is the death of Christ that ensures my salvation cannot be capsized. His death is the ballast of my assurance. Again, in the words of Machen, “salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves in Christ. No, we are saved because, having once been united to Christ by faith, we are his forever.””

Verse 4: Death

The fourth and final verse of this modern classic finishes with that last great enemy that we all must face: death itself.

The quote escapes me and I don’t have access to the book at the moment, but at certain point in “Dying Thoughts,” puritan pastor Richard Baxter reasons with himself on how unreasonable it is that a Christian should fear death. Nevertheless, here is Baxter, at the end of a life of faith and faithful Christian ministry, writing a series of meditations in part for the very reason that he is afraid of death.

But if we belong to Christ, as the apostle affirms, to die is to gain Him and to enter his presence once and forever (2 Cor. 5.8, Php. 1.21). And so the hymn ends: ‘as we draw our final breath, we will cross that great horizon to Christ, the Shore of our salvation, with clouds behind and life secure.’

Christ, Our Anchor and Ballast

“Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” is timeless Gospel truth for souls, particular for those who are under the manifold pressures of life. Whatever our situation—whether we are beaten down by circumstances, fresh off the perils of failure and defeat, battling the tempest of doubt, or facing the unforgiving surge of death—Matt Papa and Matt Boswell remind us, as Machen’s mother reminded him, that “Christ keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on him.”

Praise the Lord for Jesus, the Anchor for our souls and the Ballast of our assurance.

Watch on YouTube:  “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” performed by Matt Boswell and the Boyce College Choir

Lyrics & Sheet Music:  Download from www.mattpapa.com

More from Messenger Hymns Vol 2:  View the ablum