March 2, 1997
The Christian life doesn’t guarantee our protection against trouble. In the face of life’s tumults, however, God’s Word offers hope to those who persevere. As Alistair Begg explains, the writer of Hebrews encouraged believers to diligently press on with confidence, spurred on by the knowledge that they were anchored to an unchanging God. If we similarly hold tight to Christ, we can rest assured of an eternal inheritance.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to take your Bibles, if you would, and turn once again this evening to the sixth chapter of Hebrews. And we’re going to read from verse 9:
“Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
“When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
“Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
Father, we pray that as we turn to the pages of Scripture, we might hear your voice and understand your Word and be brought into conformity with its truth. For Jesus’ sake, we pray. Amen.
Many if not all of you will have been present this morning for the study that we engaged in, which began at 6:4 and went through to the eighth verse—hastened somewhat towards the end, but I think we got the point fairly clearly. We said then that it was one of the most striking warnings in the whole of the New Testament, and probably the most forceful and chilling warning that is contained in all of this letter to the Hebrews. And interestingly, having made such a striking statement, the writer moves, with pastoral care and with promptness, from warning to encouragement.
And this becomes immediately apparent by his terminology in the ninth verse. The words there, “dear friends” in the opening phrase, are translated in other versions of the Bible, “beloved,” and it is actually the only occasion in which the writer uses this terminology in the whole of the thirteen chapters in Hebrews. And we would assume from that that he has chosen his words carefully and purposefully. And when he addresses them in this way as “dear friends,” it is in some sense to mitigate the very dreadful tones with which he has been already speaking.
And the reason he does so is because he is deeply concerned for their spiritual welfare. If he were not concerned for their welfare—if he was only concerned for their accolades, if he was only concerned for people to have a nice time and to enjoy themselves and to think well of themselves and well of the speaker—then he certainly would have left well alone these verses from Hebrews 6:4–8. But if a man is going to proclaim to a congregation the whole counsel of God, à la Acts chapter 20, where Paul says to the Ephesians, “I did not resist proclaiming to you the whole counsel of God,” when others follow that example, then it is going to take both pain and pleasure.
But the writer also recognizes that it would be possible for him, by addressing the issue with such forcefulness, to possibly exaggerate the potential defection of a few, and in doing so, minimize the love and the continuance of the many. It is as John Owen said of it: “He had spoken it unto them, [but he had not spoken] of them.” And the way in which he has addressed the matter was in order to stir them so that they might pay careful attention. It’s not that he now withdraws his warning, but he frames it in such a way as to ensure that it will have the maximum effect. He was confident, he said, of certain things that accompanied their profession, and their faith had borne testimony to its reality in the lives that they were living.
He was aware of the fact that, as Calvin was later to write, “There is nothing that has a greater effect in alienating us from listening to teaching than to see that we are thought of as hopeless.” And all of us have, in the course of our studies through school, found ourselves in one or two classes at least—at least some of us have, I know I certainly have—in which it quickly became apparent to me that the teacher had determined I was a lost cause, and would write on the report card, “Alistair has determined that physics is not for him, and he is very firm in his decision.” And so the way in which they approached me and I approached them created the unerring notion that, really, I was a lost cause. That’s a very, very difficult environment in which to learn. And the writer wants to ensure that those who are reading his letter and paying careful attention to it will not find themselves lumped in with those apostates that he is addressing and thereby regard themselves as a lost cause.
Now, the reason that he has confidence of better things in their case—the kind of things which “accompany salvation”—he tells us, is grounded not in the fact of their commitment, but is grounded in the nature of God. And so he affirms for them the character of God, telling them, first of all, in the opening phrase of verse 10, “God is not unjust.” “God is not unjust.” In the opening eight verses, he has made it clear that God is just in all of his dealings, and because God is just in all of his dealings, man’s spiritual rebellion cannot go unpunished. And now, by the same token, he declares that man’s devoted service will not go unrewarded. And the reason that both things are true is because of the fact of the character of God. It is that his justice will be served, which means that sin must be punished, and because he is just, he recognizes those who are making progress.
You will perhaps recall that when we studied in the book of Genesis and thought a little of Joseph, we remember that although Joseph implored the cupbearer to see what he could do about his discharge from the jail, the cupbearer forgot him. And although the cupbearer would forget Joseph, and although Joseph actually found it possible to forget his family for a period of time, God does not forget his own. And the writer in the prophecy of Isaiah says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast? And even if she could, God does not forget his children.” And so he enforces this wonderful truth by saying that God “will not forget your work and the love [that] you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”
This is very similar to what we also noted in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1, where Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians, encourages them by saying, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” And we talked then about a faith that functions, a love that labors, and a hope that hangs on. And these are the evidences of God’s grace in the lives of his people.
And what was true in Thessalonica is proving true amongst the company to whom the writer addresses himself. Their expression of faith is practical, and it is tangible, insofar as they have helped God’s people. And it is also persistent, insofar as they continue to help them. It’s not a flash in the pan that they decided to do one or two things in the first blush of their enthusiasm of a newfound faith, but their practical expressions of Christian kindness had been followed up over a period of time in persistency.
It’s very easy for us to grow weary in well-doing. Many valuable contributions to the needs of God’s people have been abandoned, simply because we didn’t see it through. But these loved ones, these dear friends to whom he refers, are sticking with it. And the emphasis is the same as is found in 1 John [3:14], where John says, assuring the believers of his day about their faith in the Lord Jesus, he says, “We know that we have passed from death to life…” Finish the sentence: “We know that we have passed from death to life.” How? That’s right. “Because we love [the] brothers.”
I’m not sure that many of us would have finished that sentence in that way. But wasn’t that what Jesus himself said? “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, on account of your love for one another.” That the tangible expressions of Christian kindness, expressed within the family of faith—to the wanderer, to the stranger, to the prisoner in affliction, to the widow, to those who are destitute and in need of help—will be the very things that, in doing it as unto the Lord, will reveal for us a crown of glory when we enter into the rest that God has promised. That’s what Jesus said to his disciples when they came to him and they said, “Lord, when did we see you sick? When did we see you in hunger? When did we see you in need?” And remember, he said, “Inasmuch as you’ve done it unto the least of one of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
Now, in verses 11 and 12, he makes application of this. He says, “We’re confident of these things. There is in your life the evidence of salvation. I want you to know that God won’t forget this, and he certainly has made note of the fact that you have shown love for him, and the way that you have shown your love for him is you’ve helped his people; and this hasn’t been a sporadic kind of activity, but there has been a persistence in your practical expressions of Christian faith.”
And so he says in verse 11 and 12, “Let’s make sure that we have no exceptions in relationship to this. Make sure that each of you is doing three things. Number one, displaying diligence.” Displaying diligence: “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure.”
Now, we don’t want to keep belaboring the point, but we’ve said it again and again: continuance is the test of reality. The ground of our salvation is in the atoning work of Christ upon the cross, and the evidence of our salvation is that we continue along the journey of faith. Colossians 1: deals with this, where Paul says, “…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, [and] not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.”
“Show the diligence,” he says. “Make sure,” in verse 12, “that you don’t become lazy. Don’t become lazy.” Translated “sluggish” in other places, it’s the same word that we noted in 5:11: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.” And we noted then that the word was the same word as here in 6:12, and it is the word for “lazy.” “Don’t be lazy,” he says. “Display diligence. Don’t be lazy about your Bible. Don’t be lazy about hearing the Word of God. Because if you become lazy and careless in hearing the Word of God, it will diminish the sense of hope that you have.”
Because it is by the Scriptures that we have hope. “All the things were written in the past,” says Paul to the Romans, “so that through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.” Actually, he says, “so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” I never met a hopeful Christian that didn’t read their Bible. I didn’t meet a hopeful Christian ever that didn’t pay careful attention to the Word of God when it was taught. I never met somebody that was full of hope who was not directly plugged in to the truth of God’s Word.
“So,” he says, “display diligence. And secondly, leave laziness well alone. And thirdly, make sure that you’re practicing patience.” That’s the end of verse 12: “Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” And then, by encouragement, he turns his readers to a classic illustration in the Old Testament in the character of Abraham. And he reminds them of how Abraham received what had been promised to him.
And you may want to turn, just for a moment, to remind us of the wonder of this—in Genesis chapter 22, in the story of Abraham and of Isaac, and how God had promised to Abraham that he would have an inheritance, in terms of his seed, that would be larger than all the sands upon the seashore. Abraham was smart enough to realize that that was going to come through Isaac. And then he had the word from God to take his only son Isaac and kill him. And Abraham was clever enough to work out that if you take your only son and kill your only son, and you’d waited twenty-five years to have a son, and it didn’t seem like there was much prospect of that, and there certainly didn’t seem to be much prospect of another, then it would seem that the whole notion of the promise of God was going to end on this wooden altar.
So what was he going to do? He’s going to do what God said to do. And so, in Genesis 22:13, “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.” And verse 14: “So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’ [And] the angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, ‘I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.’”
When you come into the New Testament, and when Paul addresses this in Romans chapter 5, it’s striking in the way in which he puts it. You may like just to turn there. Romans chapter 4, I should say. That was one of those panic moments when you say the reference, and you look down, and you know for sure it isn’t there.
Romans chapter 4: “Against all hope”—when everybody else would have assumed, including Abraham, that there was no possibility of this happening—“Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it has been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” And what was the promise? The promise was, “You’re gonna have so many children, and children’s children, and children’s children, that no one will be able to count them.” Verse 20: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” What an amazing, amazing illustration of faith.
And so he encourages them, on the strength of this, to ensure that they believe God’s promises, instead of encouraging doubt within their hearts, and that they imitate this kind of faith—faith in a God who makes the impossible possible.
Some of us who come here tonight need to take the concerns of our lives and the issues that we’re allowing to discourage us and to set us aside, and get alone for a moment or two with our Bibles and before God in silence, and ask him if he who is eternal, majestic, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, would have us be defeated by worry and by fear, by trembling, and by the accusations of the Evil One. And see, the encouragement—unlike the encouragement of our contemporary culture—is not to look into ourselves and find great reasons for why we can face another day, but it is to look away from ourselves and find in a God who is not unjust the ground for displaying diligence, for leaving laziness behind, and for practicing patience.
Now, between verses 16 and 20, he then mentions one other aspect of God’s character—and I’ll just mention this, and we’re through. First of all, he tells them that God is just—or, as he puts it in the negative, “God is not unjust.” And then, in these concluding verses, he reminds them that God keeps his promises.
And this is an amazing little section here about God making his promise to Abraham. An oath was—and in certain arenas still is—a decisive appeal to the highest power available to close all controversy on an issue. It’s not unusual for men and women to confirm the reliability of promises and to assert the integrity of promises by putting themselves on oath. The amount of lying and perjury which is contemporary culture makes something of a nonsense of oath taking and oath keeping, but nevertheless, in its origin, and certainly as it is propounded for us here in Hebrews chapter 6, that is what it meant. And the writer says, “God has not only given his promise, but he has confirmed it with an oath. He has done something that he didn’t need to do. And since he cannot swear by someone greater than himself, he swears by himself.”
Now, obviously an oath and a promise is only as good as the character of the individual making it. And so, with God’s promise, it is secure not for any other reason than the fact that God said it. For example, in Numbers 23:19, we read these words: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” The bare promise of God is sufficient to command our belief. But when God confirms it with an oath, he has provided, as the writer says, “two unchangeable things.” And this he urges his readers to find as the very ground of encouragement in their faith.
What has happened in becoming a Christian? We have fled to Christ for refuge. In fact, even as I speak, the hymn that comes to mind is riddled with this section: “How Firm a Foundation, Ye Saints of the Lord.” Let me just find it and quote it:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word!
What more can he say than to you he has said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
To those who are tempted to run around looking for a word from God—here, there, and everywhere, some addition to the Bible, some exciting accretion, some notion, some elaborate, mystical word—the writer of the hymn reminds us, “Listen, God has said it all, and his bare promise is enough to believe it, and he has confirmed it with an oath.” F. F. Bruce, writing of this, says “We are refugees from the sinking ship of this present world order, and that is soon to disappear. Our hope is fixed in the eternal order where the promises of God are made good to his people.”
That’s why in this morning’s study we mentioned 1 Peter 1:3–5—good verses, incidentally, if you have a course in memorization. You and I will do well to commit these to memory, where he says that we’ve been born again to a “living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” and to “an inheritance that is undefiled and cannot fade away and is kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power through faith are shielded until the day of salvation.”
And this is one of the most striking opportunities for evangelism, I truly believe, as you are about and as we are about to go back out into another week in our world. It is full of a pervasive hopelessness. It is covered over by all kinds of smiles and vacations and acquisitions. But many of our friends and neighbors, if we were to get to the core with them, would admit that they are absolutely hopeless. And we have been brought from the realm of hopelessness into the reality of hope, and the anchor, he says, has been fastened; the anchor of our soul is secure and it is certain. Verse 19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, [and is] firm and [it is] secure.” It is fixed to an immovable object. Our hope is fixed in the unseen but real realm of heaven, which is described for us here in verse 20. The stability of our hope is certain, insofar as it is uninfluenced by external factors. It is steadfast by virtue of its inherent character.
When I was a boy in Scotland, I was a member of the Boys’ Brigade. The Boys’ Brigade, in its pristine form, was actually established by a Scotsman and spread throughout the world from Scotland. And the theme tune of the Boys’ Brigade was a hymn which began,
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?
When the [tides] unfold their [winds] of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?
And then we would sing, proud in our uniforms, in our tiny, squeaky little voices,
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!
And I sang it at seven, probably not understanding it. And I memorized it quickly, as with everything else. And as I rehearse it before you tonight, it is a wonderful truth, is it not?
When Jesus called for faith in people, he said, “If only you would have faith as a little child, you could enter the kingdom of heaven.” Some are here tonight, and you may not have faith. You may not have your anchor fastened to an immovable object. You may not be grounded in the character of God. You may have never understood that God is not unjust, that God is a God who keeps his promises, that all the promises that God has ever made find their yes and their fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, who by his death and his resurrection and by his ascension has achieved for us a momentous and eternal victory.
And interestingly, it says of him in verse 20 that he “went before us,” and he “entered on our behalf.” The word that is used here is a very important word; we might translate it, “He became our forerunner.” The word in Greek is prodromos. And the reason it is significant is because it advances this whole notion of what the high priest could do. Because the high priest did not go as a forerunner into the Holy of Holies. The high priest went as a representative into the Holy of Holies, and he went places that other people couldn’t go. And he went where they couldn’t go so that they might have the benefits of his work on their behalf. But the Lord Jesus has gone where he bids us come: into the very throne room of God itself. He is our forerunner. And he is bringing, as we saw in chapter 2, many sons and daughters to glory.
What an encouragement it is to realize that as a believer, I need not drift along in the uncertainty of the tide, because I have this hope as an anchor for my soul, and it is firm, and it is secure, and it is fastened to a Rock that cannot move.
What about you tonight? You’ve come to a Communion service. Some of you have come out of a background of liturgy. You’ve been asking me in recent weeks, “Don’t you have the Eucharist?” you’ve been asking me when you met me. And I’ve been trying to explain to you what we do and why we do it. And you may well be here, and you are going to approach this Table the way you have approached every other opportunity to remember the death of the Lord Jesus Christ—as if somehow or another, in the very taking of this, there was to be forgiveness provided. I want you to know that this meal is symbolic of a sacrifice that has been made, and that this is a meal for those who by God’s grace have had the anchor of their soul fastened to the Rock of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to come not in order to be forgiven, as a means of eating, but in order to testify to the fact of their forgiveness.
And some out of this group tonight need to pause, and in preparation for Communion you need to say, “Lord Jesus, I’m beginning to understand this now. I realize that I am a sinner and that I have no way of meriting entry into your kingdom. And I’ve suddenly realized that there’s no holy person that’s going to be able to take care of this for me, and I’ve been relying on that. And I’ve come to understand that Jesus is actually the one and only sacrifice for sins, and when he died upon the cross, he made an atoning sacrifice for sin once and for all, and I believe that. I believe it in such a way that I am prepared to give up on all my righteous acts, on all my religious doings, and I am prepared to part company with everything that is an expression of my rebellion and indifference towards God, and I want to know the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.” And some of you need to pause and take care of eternal business.
Others of us need to pause and take care of another kind of business. Because we’re growing lazy about the things of the Bible, and God is breaking our heart about this and reminding us of how precious it is to have this possession. Did you see briefly today the scenes in Iran of those people buffeted and beaten by the dreadful earthquake that struck the country? Did you see the close-up camera angles of their eyes? Did you see the emptiness of their lives, trapped in religion and without any hope? And we who have been born again to a living hope are tempted to take it all for granted. We need to repent of that, and we need to ask God to stir our hearts.
And some of us have grown fearful, and we’ve created obstacles for ourselves, as if somehow or another we need to muster up all the faith and confidence and trust; we need to do this, and we need to do that, and we need to fix this and fix that, and all of a sudden we’ve created our own little Christianity, which is actually you get saved by grace, through faith, and then you struggle on towards the end of your life trying to do it all on your own. And here, of all places, we should be reminded of what is true.
We only need the faith of a little child. The faith of the small boy who was visiting his grandmother’s grave with his dad, and he was carrying daffodils to place at the gravestone. And as they walked towards the gravestone, the boy was asking his dad where his grandmother was. And his father told him that his gran was in heaven with Jesus. And the father noticed that the boy from that point began to carry the daffodils above his head. And when he inquired, the little boy said that he was holding them up in order that his grandmother might see them.
Such simple, believing trust.
Don’t let’s make it any more complicated than the Bible says it is. Don’t let’s make it easy when it says it’s tough. But don’t let’s make it convoluted when the call is to simple, continual, steadfast, trusting obedience.
Let us pray together:
Our God and our Father, we thank you for the Bible. I don’t know what I would do without the Bible. I don’t know what any of us would do every time it came time for the message. I think about so many who have to stumble around and read magazines and come up with a bright idea, and I pray for them, that they might learn that the Bible is all that we need and is sufficient and might teach it. I thank you for the privilege of teaching it today. I pray that you’d write it in our hearts, that we might pay heed to the warnings, and that we might snuggle up to the encouragements and the promises. Help us, even as we bring to you now our evening offerings, and as we worship you and pray and break bread together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Acts 20:27 (paraphrased).
 John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in The Works of John Owen (London: Richard Baynes, 1826), 26:164.
 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 6:9. Paraphrased
 See Genesis 40:14–15, 23.
 Isaiah 49:15 (paraphrased).
 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV 1984).
 John 13:35 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 25:37–40 (paraphrased).
 Romans 15:4 (NIV 1984).
 See Genesis 22:2.
 Romans 4:18–19 (NIV 1984).
 “How Firm a Foundation” (1787). Attributed to “K.”
 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 131.
 1 Peter 1:3–5 (paraphrased).
 Priscilla J. Owens, “We Have an Anchor” (1882).
 See Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:17.
 See 2 Corinthians 1:20.
 See Hebrews 2:10.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.