Holding Fast and
Pressing towards the Mark

Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, over a cup of tea, my wife and I will watch the Antiques Roadshow on the T.V. We like it not only from the point of view of seeing some of the wonderful and exquisite workmanship which God has in the past given man the ability to produce, quite distinct from the mass production of the present day, but also because it provides a study in human nature. There is the oft-expressed enthusiasm and surprising knowledge of the valuer. One owner will express complete equanimity at the verdict another will literally gasp with astonishment at hearing the worth of his or her treasure. But the one that appeals to me is the lady who answered the valuer's question "would you sell it?" with the spontaneous remark made with deep feeling "Oh, no ‑ I love it".

This is merely an illustration. Everyone has material possessions which they accept from the Lord's hand and for necessary uses, but do not, and should not, set their heart upon them.

But unlike, at least some of those exhibitors, there are other treasures—treasures which are not seen, at least by the uninitiated, and which no man can value for they are priceless, and which need not be insured because they are laid up "in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal."

Why then are we told to "Hold fast that which we have"? For the simple reason that being unseen treasures they are held by faith which is continually under attack from our great adversary. As long as we continue to believe, all is well, but if we drop our shield the devil's darts strike home. Then does faith take wings only to be restored by the Lord's mercy. In the story of Fact, Faith and Experience walking along the top of a wall. If Faith had kept his eyes on Fact instead of looking round at Experience he wouldn't have lost his balance and fallen off dragging poor old Experience after him. But Fact kept straight on along that wall. For the 'fact' is that God has spoken, and by keeping our eyes and heart on what He has said and believing we too can follow on to achieve our goal.

Hold fast that which ye have…", are the words taken from Rev.2:25. What then, have we got? First of all we have access to God, and that alone is a priceless gift for it is by faith alone, through our Lord Jesus Christ and is entirely without works. Then, too, we have justification, and that also is by faith, and from that flows peace with God (Rom.5:1). We have righteousness, sanctification and deliverance, reckoned unto us as being in Christ Jesus as we are told in 1 Cor.1:30. These are just a few of the things we have, and we could add to them. Then other things flow from them too, such as a most blessed hope of glory to come, for all are based upon the promises of God.

This world is a battleground, and sometimes the battle rages strong both in and around us. For whilst we have all these things, these blessings, ours by right of purchase by our blessed Saviour, there is always an enemy lurking near who would seek to rob us of them. Satan has many wiles and many ignoble courtiers willing to carry his behests. We should not be ignorant of his devices. Therefore the call to us is 'hold fast' or 'stand fast'.

"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith", Heb.10:23 exhorts us as Weymouth puts it "to an unflinching avowal of our hope" and goes on "for He is faithful that promised" (KJV).

God cannot lie. In the words of Isa.46:11 "I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it". So as Heb.3:6 exhorts "Hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end".

Poor old Job was determined to hold fast. But the question is—hold fast to what? In Job 27:6 it says "My righteousness I hold fast" and even piles on his own agony by adding "and will not let it go"—wherein, lay the seat of all his troubles. But he did let go—eventually—and what suffering he had to endure before he did so. But finally the Lord brought him to the point where he had to literally chew his own words and to admit (Job 42:3) "Therefore have I uttered that I understood not".

Job wasn't the only man who at some time or another has wished that his spoken words had remained unuttered. Possibly Paul too could have said the same. For in Phil.3 he tells how at one time he was so zealous persecuting the Church and touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless, (verse 6) words which are, in essence, an echo of Job's words. But when he had fought off that incubus, he could say that he counted it all loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord and to be found in Him NOT having his own righteousness which was of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

For it was Satan who tempted Job, and it was Satan who tempted our Lord. Satan tempted Paul and the same evil being still tempts along similar lines. Always the defence is "Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou savourest not the things that be of God but those that be of man", so one seeks to hold fast to the things we have, the doctrines we have been taught.

The Greek word 'katecho' which is translated 'hold fast' is also translated "keep in memory" in 1 Cor.15:2. Paul is saying, the Gospel which I preached unto you will save you as long as you hold it fast. So never let it go. Dwell upon it constantly and treat it as a most treasured possession. "For this reason we ought to pay the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, for fear we should drift away from them" (Heb.2:1 Weymouth). In a note to this Weymouth states "Drifting is an unconscious process… We are all continually exposed to the action of currents of opinion, habit, action, which tend to carry us away insensibly from the position which we ought to maintain".

There are two more passages exhorting 'to hold fast'.1 Thess.5:21 "Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good" and 2 Tim.1:13 "Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me…" These two passages go well together. For one certainly needs to prove all things, and should not be just taken in and acquiesce to all one hears. Some may say matters of doctrine should be left to the elders. That is not 'proving'. Proving is comparing spiritual things with spiritual and endeavouring to 'rightly divide the word of Truth' and being fully persuaded in one's own mind. If unconvinced, it is far better to acknowledge so and await further light.

It is true that one cannot always find a literal "Thus saith the Lord" for every viewpoint, but the Spirit which the Lord has given discerns all things, and the question becomes rather 'Does it go against the Word of God rightly divided'? For instance our Lord said once "What God hath joined together let not man put asunder." But we can also say "What God has separated let not men join together". Still someone might object that such an expression does not appear in the Word of God. But surely a little thought will show that it is admissible. Can one join together 'good' and 'evil', or 'light and dark', 'flesh' and 'spirit' etc….Paul even writes a whole Epistle to the Galatians to confute their error in joining together 'law' and 'grace'. So there was very good reason for Paul exhorting to not only 'prove' all things but also to 'hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of ME' emphasizing the 'Me' because, even Peter found some of his words 'hard to understand' and to Peter were committed the keys of the kingdom of heaven with all that implies. Whereas to Paul called by the risen Christ in glory was committed a secret which up to that time had been hid in God and found nowhere in Scripture. With it was given a ministry in accordance therewith to 'commit to faithful men', who in their turn would be 'able to teach others' as Paul tells Timothy. So, Paul says "Hold fast (don't let go) the form (or pattern or outline) of sound words which thou hast heard of ME".

To stand for the testimony of the Lord there will be continual warfare, because now, although perfect in Christ, which is the truth at the very centre of Paul's testimony, each has to hold the ground where God has placed them as new creatures in Christ. Warfare, as it is generally understood carries the thought of armies marching into other countries to subdue their enemies. But we are not told to march but STAND. So whilst endeavouring to 'hold fast' one is also exhorted to 'stand fast' IN THE LORD. "Watch ye, stand fast in the Lord, quit you like men, be strong" Paul tells the Corinthians and warns the Galatians "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage". How necessary was—and is—that warning. No less so today than when Paul wrote those words. The idea that man must do something for his salvation is just as prevalent today as ever. Not only do we have to keep this liberty which we have as a very precious possession, but we have to be ready to contend for it if called upon.

Justification by faith alone is still completely unacceptable to Satan. The mixture of law and grace is evident on all sides. Sometimes the Epistle of James, for instance, is elevated to a position which the Apostle Paul would certainly not have countenanced. One would think that the Reformation had never taken place for how little one hears of this glorious doctrine which has done so much to emancipate the mind of man from bondage in the past. But perhaps one shouldn't wonder when Paul says that the holy Scriptures are "able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus," (2 Tim.3:15) that the "time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts (desires) they shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Tim.4:3-4)

It is needful to 'hold fast' and to 'stand fast' and to "contend for the faith that was delivered once for all unto the saints."

The fight is never 'over, the battle won' other than Christ is the victor. The Devil is a wonderful tactician, a master of all subtlety. Therefore, as Paul tells Timothy, "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," and "keep (or guard as the word means) that which is committed to thy trust". "Onward Christian soldiers" may sound a very fine hymn with a full choir singing it, but how many really understand the words? Many a child has sung this hymn at the top of their voice not knowing the meaning of the words. Some adults have thought it's a hymn about soldiers going to war.

The point is that "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." There should be no need to sing the words of that other hymn "Soldiers of Christ arise and put your armour on" for it should already have been put on—and be kept on, as another hymn says "From strength to strength go on; wrestle and fight and pray; Tread all the powers of darkness down and win the well-fought day".

Many years after Paul's conversion he made another visit to Jerusalem and communicated unto them THAT Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles (Gal.2:2). And he went, he continues, because of false brethren unawares (stealthily) brought in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage (Gal.2:4). No way was Paul going to have that. No way was he going to lose that liberty which Christ had given him and he was equally concerned for others whom the Lord had called. He stood firm and held fast that which he had, and then later when he met Peter in Antioch he "withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Gal.2:11). It was a subtle snare he was combatting.

In the story of Gideon in the Book of Judges the Midianites came up against Israel. They were like grasshoppers for multitude and they destroyed the increase of the earth and left no sustenance for Israel. So Gideon threshed wheat to hide it from the Midianites. He was guarding some of the produce of the land which God had given Israel because he valued it so highly and would not be robbed of it. It is a type of Christ as the bread of life. Thus was Gideon being prepared as one that could deliver Israel.

There is a similar account in 2 Sam.23:11. Shammah, was one of David's mighty men, when the Philistines came up into the land and all the people fled. But this man stood in the midst of a piece of ground full of lentils and defended it. He slew the Philistines and "The Lord wrought a great victory".

These two brave men, Gideon and Shammah and others in Hebrews 11, are examples in standing, holding fast and defending the possessions which the Lord bestows. To this end the more we are immersed in the Word of God and hold on to the precious promises He has made to us, the brighter will shine our armour and the sharper will be our sword as we wield it in defence of the Gospel.

Holding fast means standing upon all the promises God has made, and not letting them go, nor watering them down to make them mean something other than was intended.

If ever there was a believer who knew what it was to 'hold fast' surely that one was John Bunyan (1628-1688). Not only was he a firebrand plucked out of the burning, but he was also one of the 'foolish things of the world' chosen to 'confound the wise'. Yet in spite of having to endure untold hardship as a soldier of Christ, he never lost his sense of humour nor his keen insight into human nature, and his use of allegory was almost without parallel.

Holding fast then, is what we are all exhorted to do, not in our own strength, but clad with the whole armour of God just believing that we are kept by His mighty power. Although Paul could say that 'all in Asia have turned away from me', and though he suffered untold hardship both in body and spirit, his whole bent was much more than to what God had revealed to him, which was much more than to anyone else at the time, to press toward the mark for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus and exhort the brethren in Christ whom he loved to do the same. Then at the end as his departure drew nigh he could say 'I have fought a good fight. I have KEPT the faith.'

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (2 Tim.4:8)